Conference to Celebrate the Clinical and Academic Achievements of Professor Issy Kolvin (1929-2002)

This meeting took place at the University of Newcastle on 6th March 2003.

This conference was organized by the North East Branch of The Association for Child Psychology and Psychiatry in collaboration with the University of Newcastle. This article summarizes the results of our conference feedback sheets and some semi-structured interviews conducted with a random sample of participants who attended the conference — we hope Issy would have approved of the research design!!

The aim of the conference was to provide a fitting tribute to the life and work of Professor Israel Kolvin (affectionately known as Issy). This was reflected in the variety and range of topics presented, as well as the high quality of the speakers.

Delegates from a range of different backgrounds and experiences attended the conference. It was fascinating to look at the evaluation forms after the day and read people's personal tributes to Issy, and how he influenced the beliefs and practice of many people. The day was also a great opportunity for old colleagues of Issy's to meet up and share stories!

The day started with Professor Ian Goodyer, University of Cambridge, talking about his research on life events and depression in young people. Professor Goodyer's presentation tracked where his initial interest in life events had come from, namely his research with Professor Kolvin, through to his current areas of study. The initial research looked at the role of life events in children and young people referred to a child and adolescent mental health service. The children with conduct disorder were found to have few life events but many ongoing difficulties. However, in the case of depression, it was found that recent life events involving loss and personal disappointment activated onset of around half of unipolar major depressions in adolescents. This suggested that life events have a role in depression for some adolescents — but what was it? Professor Goodyer's research has gone on to address some of the many questions that are raised from this initial work, looking at the role of psychological, physiological, neurobiological and genetic factors, and how these factors are mediated by developmental processes.

research dating from 1946, and which continues to this day. All babies born in the City of Newcastle in May and June 1947 were recruited to the project. A detailed study of health and social circumstances was undertaken with all of the families. These initial results provide a rich description of what Newcastle was like during that time, and hearing about the levels of deprivation was quite shocking. For those of us working in Newcastle, it reminds us to think about how the parents and grandparents of children we see were raised, and how times have changed. The cohort is still being followed up, and a recent study in 1997 has demonstrated the relative importance of adult lifestyle over conditions in early life in the incidence of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

There followed a presentation given by Dr Paul Tiffin, Academic SpR in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, focussing on the mental health aspect of the Thousand Families Study. Professor Kolvin and his team have, over many years, made major contributions to this research, looking at factors such as inter-generational deprivation, offending behaviour and depression. It was heartening to hear how Professor Kolvin's research continues to the present day, with further projects being planned to investigate the mental health of the current cohort — adults now in their mid 50s.

The afternoon session began with Dr Paul McArdle, University of Newcastle, addressing the topic of hyperactivity, conduct problems and secular trends. It was interesting to hear how rates of adolescent disorders, such as self harm, suicide, substance abuse and crime, have increased so dramatically in recent years, and that these increases do not seem to be reflected in changes in the rates of disruptive behaviour disorders in younger children. This has obvious implications not only for us as professionals working in these areas, but also for society as a whole. It served as a useful reminder to take a broader view and think about wider societal issues when working with this group of young people.

Dr Carmen Clemente, Royal Free Hospital, London, then gave the final academic presentation of the day, which was based on a research project she carried out with Professor Kolvin looking at aspects of psychological resilience in blood disorders. The research demonstrated that children with haemophilia and thalassaemia use a range of coping strategies, which partly seemed to depend on their age and IQ. The concept of resilience was of great interest to Professor Kolvin, and has guided many of us in looking for the strengths rather than just the difficulties, when we meet with children and their families.

Professor Ann Le Couteur ended the conference with a tribute to Professor Kolvin's academic and clinical achievements. The audience was pleased to hear how Professor Kolvin's lifelong passionate concern for the welfare of children impacted on all his professional working relationships. Ann Le Couteur summarized some of the personal and professional milestones in Issy's long and productive career. There were many old friends and colleagues from the north east and further afield in the audience. Many had travelled from across the U.K. to join this celebratory conference. We were especially pleased to welcome Professor Kolvin's daughter, Jenny, who came up from London to represent the family on the day. Issy encouraged all his colleagues, irrespective of their professional discipline, to take part in research and evaluation of their clinical work. He also insisted that everyone was involved in the resulting publications. The tribute included a number of personal and professional anecdotes and seemed to have special significance to many of those present.

In all, the conference was an excellent memorial to Professor Kolvin. In the words of one delegate, one of the main experiences of being at the conference was to feel inspired and motivated by one man who did so much in the field of clinical research. Those of us who are full time clinicians sometimes feel out of touch with the academic world, and it is so useful to attend events such as these, where we can come away feeling reinvigorated to think 'how can I contribute to research?'.

Dr Heather Borrill
Clinical Psychologist
Fleming Nuffield Unit
Secretary North East Branch ACPP