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Mental health activist Jacqui Dillion receives honorary doctorate

east london and thames river

Head of Hearing Voices UK recognised by UEL's School of Psychology

By Lee Pinkerton

Mental health campaigner Jacqui Dillion offered University of East London (UEL) students an inspiring example of strength when she addressed them at the University’s School of Psychology graduation ceremony.

Ms Dillion said, “I was not afforded the privilege of a university education, because of the very difficult circumstances in which I grew up. For a kid who was constantly told how stupid she was, and who left school with very little formal education, to end up here today feels like a great honour.”

Jacqui Dillon turned her traumatic experience of childhood abuse into a vocation as a mental health activist. She is a respected campaigner, writer, international speaker and trainer specialising in hearing voices; ‘psychosis’; dissociation; trauma; child abuse; healing and recovery. 

Ms Dillion said, “I know that I am not the only person in this room who will have experienced abuse, trauma, and different forms of oppression, but we are more than the bad things that have happened to us.”

Ms Dillion received an Honorary Doctorate of Psychology from UEL at indigo at The O2. 

Ms Dillon was born and bred in East London, and still lives in the area. Her experiences of surviving severe childhood abuse from an early age and her subsequent experiences of using psychiatric services intimately inform her work. 

 “The two things that drive me and my work,” she explained, “is the outrage at how myself and others have and continue to be treated by the mental health system. That, and the fact that, even if you are coming from humble or difficult circumstances, and you have experienced trauma and adversity, it is possible, with the right kind of support, to overcome bad experiences and to thrive.”

Despite leaving school with only 3 ‘O’’ levels, Ms Dillon has established herself as an expert in the field of mental health, co-authoring books and numerous papers, and regularly  delivering keynote addresses at international conferences. There has been a close connection between Ms Dillon and UEL’s School of Psychology for many years.

 “UEL has been a long-time supporter of my work,” Ms Dillon said.  “I was invited by Dr David Harper to come and give my first-ever lecturer at a university.  And I remember worrying about it for weeks on end. But it felt like a huge privilege, because what was being acknowledged was that my lived experience of surviving horrific trauma and being able to transform that, was being recognized as expertise in and of itself.”

Jacqui has worked within mental health services for more than 18 years in a variety of settings, including community, acute, and secure settings, colleges and universities. But she is perhaps best known as one of the ‘leading lights’ of the international Hearing Voices movement.  She was very complimentary about UEL’s School of Psychology.

She told graduates, “I don’t know if you realise how lucky you are to have people like Dr David Harper, and Professor John Read, and Professor Nimisha Patel in your university, because in our field of mental health, these people are considered dons. You’re very lucky to have them.”