I am Co-Director of the Developmental Psychopathology Group. Our group investigates the developmental effects of early life experiences on cognition and the brain to better understand why some individuals develop mental health problems, and others do not.
My studies showed that a negative family environment where children are emotionally abused and/or neglected (child emotional maltreatment; CEM), is associated with differential structure (van Harmelen et al., 2010a) and functioning (van Harmelen et al., 2013; van Harmelen et al., 2014a;2014b) of key emotional brain regions. I also showed that CEM is associated with altered cognitive functioning (van Harmelen et al., 2010b; 2011). These cognitive and neurobiological effects help explain why individuals with CEM are vulnerable to develop mental health disorders (Ioannidis & van Harmelen, in review). More recently, I have started to take a developmental approach when examining the consequences of CEM. Using advanced structural equation modelling, we showed that the age at which abuse and neglect occur its mental health consequences determines (Harpur, Polek, & van Harmelen, 2015). This suggests that there may be crucial developmental time-windows that may be especially sensitive to the negative impact of abuse and neglect. However, during these crucial time-periods, children and adolescents may similarly be sensitive to positive influences. In line with this idea, I recently showed that adolescent peer support reduces later depressive symptoms after (van Harmelen et al., 2016), and increases mental health resilience after childhood family adversity (van Harmelen et al., 2017).