Spotlight on... Essi Viding and Argyris Stringaris

This week we meet Essi Viding and Argyris Stringaris, Pro Vice Provosts for the Mental Health and Wellbeing Grand Challenge. Essi and Argyris chat to us about taking a cross-disciplinary approach to improving mental health and wellbeing and their shared fondness for Bach.

What is your role and what does it involve’

We have recently started as Pro Vice Provosts for the Mental Health and Wellbeing Grand Challenge. We are working together with colleagues across UCL to catalyse and promote cutting-edge cross-disciplinary research, aimed at accelerating intervention discovery and implementation to improve the mental health and well-being of the next generation. Despite mental health problems increasing in prevalence over the last decades, we have not made notable progress in improving the efficacy of interventions. We need new, imaginative research that takes into account the multi-faceted nature of mental health and wellbeing if we want to make progress. Both basic and applied research are critical as we seek to better understand the complex mechanisms underlying mental ill health and pilot and test new solutions together with our partners.  

Although mental health research has traditionally been the domain of psychiatrists and psychologists like ourselves, and wellbeing research has perhaps received more attention from social sciences, both areas would benefit from collaborations that combine biological, social, and societal approaches. Colleagues from the humanities and the arts also have a critical role in this endeavour. 

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role’

One of us (Essi) has been here since 2005 when she started as a junior lecturer. The other (Argyris) joined UCL in 2022 from the National Institute of Mental Health in the US, where he led the Clinical and Computational Psychiatry section. 

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of’

We are both proud of setting up thriving research teams that support early career researchers. These researchers will be the next generation of academics spearheading the work of improving the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people. 

We are also thrilled to be leading the Grand Challenge in Mental Health and Wellbeing. We both think that UCL is uniquely positioned to make a genuine impact in accelerating intervention discovery and implementation - no other university can boast of having such wide-ranging, cross-disciplinary expertise in this area. A recent Grand Challenges event that we chaired had contributions from philosophers, lawyers, architects, artists, neuroscientists, psychologists and psychiatrists - just to mention a few disciplines that were involved.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list

One of our top priorities is to improve the mental health and wellbeing provision for our own students and staff. We are currently conducting a mapping exercise of the services and resources available for UCL students and staff. We are also working to create a new referral pathway for students who have ADHD and related neurodevelopmental issues. Linked to this is our work with education colleagues to support educational content and delivery that supports student wellbeing. Working together with UCL’s excellent professional services staff has been key to getting these initiatives going in innovative ways. 

What is your favourite album, film and novel’

We have a joint fondness for Bach and might recommend Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s album of Bach Cantatas

We both struggled to name a favourite film or book, there are simply too many good ones but, as forced, we picked one each. Argyris’ film choice is Solaris by Andrei Tarkovsy and his book choice is The Murderess by Alexandros Papadiamantis. Essi’s film choice is La Haine by Mathieu Kassovitz and her book The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)’

We both like nerd jokes. Essi’s; "There are two types of people. Those who can extrapolate from incomplete data."  Argyris’: "Datum is singular for data"

Who would be your dream dinner guests’

For Essi: Maya Angelou, Evelyn Waugh, Voltaire, and Francis Bacon - not sure they would get on.

For Argyris: Panajotis Kondylis, Michel Foucault, Ian Hacking and Florence Nightingale.

What advice would you give your younger self’

’This too shall pass.’ - We are agreed on this one. 

What would it surprise people to know about you’

Essi: "I grew up in Finland and used to cross-country ski to school at -20C when I was 7. This fact is rolled out every time my children complain about something minor."

Argyris: "I have tried four times already to become a decent guitarist and failed. I am trying for a fifth time now."

What is your favourite place’  

Essi: "London, hands down. It is the most exciting, tolerant, and inclusive city I have ever come across."

Argyris: "Tall Greek mountains with a lot of snow and a Greek shepherd dog."
  • University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT (0) 20 7679 2000