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Mental Health and Social Change Group





Mental Health and Social Change research group image

The Mental Health and Social Change Group is a diverse grouping within the School of Psychology. Encompassing various approaches and topic areas, we share a commitment to  psychological research and practice which is done with and not to people and communities.

Group members work alongside people with lived experience of distress, activists, practitioners and service providers, to develop impactful research which has social justice at its core. We are influenced by various intersecting traditions in psychology and the social sciences, including: critical psychology; community psychology; ecological psychology; affect theory; de-coloniality; feminism; and queer theory. 

Our core drivers as a group are:

1. Towards a psychosocial paradigm of mental health

The group has a long tradition of research which underpins a psychosocial understanding of mental distress, broadly arguing that distress is a meaningful psychological experience developed in response to adverse life events. Research carried out by past and current group members has been instrumental in arguing for a paradigm shift away from narrow medical understandings of mental health and distress. 

2. Towards theoretical innovation in Psychology

Another core tradition of the group is engagement with social theory to explore psychological research questions. Theories of affect, process, narrative, feminism and coloniality variously animate research done by group members, also inspiring methodological creativity and experimentation. 

Impact

Impact is central to the work we do in the Mental Health and Social Change group. Some examples of impact are:

One in six UK adults were prescribed anti-depressants in 2017, and yet little is known about the experience of long-term use of these drugs, or the experience of cessation. Professor John Read’s research and systematic reviews looking at experiences of antidepressant use highlighted long withdrawal periods and numerous negative impacts of sudden cessation. 

This research has been widely reported in the press and media (SKY News, BBC1, BBC Radio 4, and most national newspapers), leading to pressure to change professional practice and guidelines. His research papers and recent systematic review have been submitted to the review of the NICE guidelines on withdrawal, to reflect the findings of the study. He is the BPS’s representative on Public Health England’s Expert Advisory Group for their current review of Dependence on Prescribed Medicines.

Group members’ work arguing for a psychosocial approach to mental health has been influential in both policy and public debates. This work has a long history in the group, with past members’ producing seminal texts such as Mary Boyle’s ‘Schizophrenia: A Scientific Delusion’. Present members of the group continue to work across academic, clinical practice and policy to influence understandings of mental distress.

Professor David Harper and ProfessorJohn Read, for example, were co-authors of the ‘Power Threat Meaning Framework’, an alternative to diagnosis published by the British Psychological Society in 2018. This work drew on their extensive work on trauma, paranoia and mental health, and also cited Professor Nimisha Patel’s work in the evidence base. This framework has attracted international interest as providing a psychosocial alternative model to a medical and diagnostic approach. This built on Harper’s authorhsip of the psychosocial text book: ‘The Psychology of Mental Health and Distress’, which won the BPS book award and has been widely adopted as a textbook.

 

A central theme in Dr. Ava Kanyeredzi’s work looking at Black Women’s experiences of abuse and violence was faith; she found all of the women she interviewed mentioned their faith; she found all of the women she interviewed mentioned their faith and had been helped or sought help from churches. Yet faith organisations and mental health services are rarely connected. This finding has been influential in setting up the Black Church Domestic Abuse Forum, a collective of pastors/church leaders, practitioners and academics who aim to empower Black majority churches (BMC) to become change-makers in their responses to and prevention of domestic abuse within their congregations, and within their local communities. A toolkit for helping churches to respond to reports of trauma and abuse is in development. 

Professor Rachel Tribe and Professor Nimisha Patel have led work working with refugees, asylum seekers and survivors of torture over many years. They have authored several guides for professional practice for psychologists and engaged in a wide range of scholarly, clinical, consultancy and policy work in these areas. Professor Rachel Tribe has gained recognition for her work by The BPS Division of Counselling Psychology 2019 Award for diversity and innovation in practice jointly with Dr. Farsi Madan for their contributions to the field over twenty years. This included the development of UEL Refugee Mental Health and Wellbeing Portal. The award was formally presented at the Cop conference in Cardiff on Saturday 29th June 2019.

ProfessorNimisha Patel’s work with survivors of torture led her to establish the NGO ‘The International Centre for Health and Human Rights’ which works at an international level including with the UN. Rachel led the team which set up the Refugee Mental Health and Wellbeing Portal. The portal offers refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced people, mental health practitioners and organisations easy access to a range of information, practical tools, resources and articles. The portal was highlighted as a major contribution by the Sunday Times review of British Universities. Rachel conducted an evaluation for the Transcultural Psychiatry Organisation (TPO) and War Child, in East Africa and ran master classes for the VPRS & VCRS programmes and for Public Health England.

 

Key projects

A shared interest of a number of group members is the exploration of theories of affect, feeling and emotion. Dr. Martin Willis, Professor Ian Tucker, Dr. Rachel Liebert and Dr. Ali Lara have all worked with theories of affect in developing theoretical and empirical psychological work. This includes Professor Tucker’s work looking at the digital contexts of emotion, leading to two co-authored books with Dr. Darren Ellis: Social Psychology of Emotion and Digital Contexts of Emotion. Dr. Lara’s theoretical work has focussed on arguing for the role of objects in mediating multiple layers of affective experience.

Dr. Rachel Liebert, Dr. Ali Lara, Dr. Sophia Bokhari and Dr. Stephanie Davis work with theories of decoloniality, exploring and challenging the impact of white supremacy in experience, policy and practice. Dr. Liebert takes a decolonial lens to questions of madness, power and bodies, including a commitment to decolonial theorisation and pedagogy. Together, the group have instigated a network for decolonial praxis and scholarship at the University of East London.  

Materiality and space have historically been neglected in psychological research, due to a focus on the mind and social contexts. Several group members share an interest in redressing this balance and exploring the role of material space in psychological experience. Professor Ian Tucker and Dr. Ava Kanyeredzi have undertaken multiple projects exploring the role of material space in experiences of distress and recovery. This includes work in psychiatric institutions as well as in community settings. Dr. Lisa Fellin's work has included research exploring the material contexts of emotion and childhood. 

Professor Nimisha Patel and Professor Rachel Tribe  are internationally recognised experts in refugee mental health. This work includes numerous academic publications, consultancy, clinical practice and policy work, crossing between academic, clinical and policy practices. Nimisha and Rachel were members of the BPS Presidential Task Force on Working with Refugees and asylum seekers, which produced BPS guidelines for psychologists in 2018. Rachel has also run training for the Sri Lankan Office for National Unity and Reconciliation psychosocial team, several Sri Lankan universities and helping establish a wellbeing centre for students and staff.

A shared interest across many group members is the role of trauma in mental distress. Professor John Read is a world leading expert on the role of trauma in mental distress, making the case for a trauma-informed mental health services. His work has included multiple papers on trauma as aetiology, as well as how trauma is discussed in services. Professor Nimisha Patel has worked extensively with survivors of torture, as a researcher, clinician and in policy and consultancy. Trauma has also been a key concern in Professor Rachel Tribe's work with refugees and interpreters. Dr. Ava Kanyeredzi's work with black female survivors of abuse and violence also calls for a nuanced consideration of the complex and multifaceted impacts of trauma, abuse and violence.
Professor David Harper's work argues for an alternative understanding of ‘paranoia’ as being an understandable, if unusual, belief system developed in response to social and interpersonal conditions. With Professor Ian Tucker, he has also examined the psychology of surveillance in culture and society more broadly, exploring our everyday contexts of surveillance. Dr. Rachel Liebert's book ‘Psycurity’ also looked at cultural contexts of surveilliance and paranoia in exploring white supremacy.

 

Our team

Dr. Jeeda Alkahim
Dr. Sophia Bokhari
Dr. Sharon Cahill
Dr. Stephanie Davis
Dr. Dominic Conroy
Dr. Lorna Farquharson
Dr. Lisa Fellin
Dr. Ken Gannon
Professor David Harper
Dr. Zetta (Georgia) Kougiali
Dr. Ali Lara
Dr. Rachel Liebert
Dr. Claire Marshall
Dr. Helen Murphy
Professor Nimisha Patel
Dr. Milda Perminiene
Dr. Joe Schwaerzler
Dr. Miles Thomas
Professor Ian Tucker
Professor Aneta Tunariu
Professor Rachel Tribe
Dr. Shashika Vethanayangam
Dr. Martin Willis
Dr. Nicholas Wood

 

Georgina DeValiant
Danilo De Emidio
Mayuri Senapti