What’s it like to…work in mental health research?

By Dr Lindsay Dewa, Advanced Research Fellow, NIHR Imperial Patient Safety Translational Research Centre, IGHI

I have been aware of mental health from an early age. I just didn’t know it was called that at the time! I remember feeling deeply about things and wanting to make sure everyone was okay if they looked sad or down. It was then only natural that I leaned towards getting a degree in psychology – the science of the mind and behaviour. I then completed my MSc in research methods and forensic psychology. This naturally led me to embarking on a PhD studying sleep and mental health in prison populations. I couldn’t wait to get started!

However, I soon realised that this was going to be hard work! To do well I needed to essentially live in a prison for a year, building and maintain relationships with gatekeepers, people in prison and mental healthcare staff. It was great hearing people’s experiences. In my last study, I also worked together with people living in the prison to shape a treatment pathway for those experiencing insomnia. This was where I first learned collaborating with people with lived experience was important for my research.

Meaningful patient and public involvement (PPI) is embedded in all my research projects at the Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI)’s NIHR Imperial Patient Safety Translational Research Centre. I love it! For my work, this means collaborating with young people with lived experience of mental health difficulties (co-researchers). This can include planning the research and conducting it together, to communicating that research back to participants and the public. This is known as co-production.

I aim to reduce power dynamics, ensure voices are heard and make shared decisions throughout all research as much as possible. True co-production is sometimes challenging. There’s a lot of preparation, administration and time needed outside of work, especially as young people may be at school, work, or university during the day. Ensuring equality is also tricky, especially if there are existing power dynamics in place, such as a patient and practitioner relationship or co-researchers not having access to certain documents because they are not members of staff.

In my role as Advanced Research Fellow, my research primarily focuses on patient safety in mental health. I’m exploring early warning signs of mental health deterioration in young people, using technology to intervene earlier and prevent things from getting worse. My work could not have happened without the support of the West London NHS Trust as they have been instrumental in developing our work and providing support.

I feel very lucky to be working at IGHI and Imperial because it’s a fantastic institute that has amazing people. It’s forward-thinking and is making ACTUAL change to policy and practice. It’s great to be part of the team. I hope to continue to drive the patient safety digital mental health field through evidence-based innovation and co-production. I feel like I have the best of both worlds – conducting research to help people, and having face-to-face contact to shape the mental health research with the very people it will help.

One comment for “What’s it like to…work in mental health research?

  1. I love your references to PPIE and to involving young people in your research and truly collaborating with them in co-productive and power sharing terms. We need to see more of that

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