What are your main research interests?
My research interests lie in using mixed methods to investigate the intrinsic relationship between mental health and health-related behaviours, especially around nutrition and physical activity. I am motivated by finding innovative ways to facilitate equitable behaviour change, which I will be pursuing in my upcoming PhD, focused on promoting adherence to plant-based diets at a population level through smartphone applications.
Can you tell me about your work with the NIHR School for Public Health Research?
Within the School for Public Health’s Public Mental Health programme and Public Health Practice Evaluation Scheme (PHPES), I am leading the qualitative element of two studies evaluating mental health interventions, one in secondary schools (Peer Education Project) and the other linking psychological therapy with wider community support (Assessing a Distinct Improving Access to Psychological Therapies service). I have been responsible for collecting data in the form of over 50 focus groups and interviews with a range of stakeholders, analysing the data, and maintaining relationships with our public partners through fortnightly meetings and workshops through study development to dissemination and discussion of implications.
What impact will/has this research have/had? E.g. societal benefit, enhanced understanding about an issue, changes in public health practice, changes to policy and legislation, improved public involvement, understanding the value of lived experience
I feel as though the PHPES projects are extremely valuable as they seek to bring public health professionals together with academics to evaluate ongoing interventions in a way that will be highly impactful and relevant to improving practice in a timely fashion.
Through our evaluation of the Mental Health Foundation’s Peer Education Project, we have fostered an understanding of how (mechanisms) and where (contexts) the intervention will be most beneficial. Additionally, our research into the NHS’s talking therapies service (‘Improving Access to Psychological Therapies’ or IAPT) has underlined the value of Public and Patient Involvement to ensure the findings are meaningful and applicable for people, seeing as IAPT is a statutory, evidence-based service accessed by 1.5 million adults per year, a figure that is expected to rise to 1.9 million by 2024 (1). In both studies, we are continuing our conversations with service managers to translate our findings into tangible changes to practice.
- The National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health. The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies Manual. [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2022 May 13]. Report No.: 08101. Available from: https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/the-iapt-manual-v5.pdf.
What made you decide to have a career/choose a pathway in public health research?
My journey into public health has not been hugely linear, which I’m sure resonates with many of my colleagues. My interest in different cultures was spurred by undertaking the majority of my education in an international community in Switzerland, and having a partner school in Nepal. Additionally, during my undergraduate Psychology degree, I participated in a healthcare internship in an orphanage in a South African township to help implement a occupational intervention for adolescents living with disabilities. Both of these experiences led me to understand inequalities in health according to socioeconomic position. Since graduating from the University of Birmingham, I shifted my focus towards nutrition and physical activity as two public health priorities, and completed my Masters at the University of Bristol. This led me to commence my work as a researcher in the Centre for Public Health, which has exposed me to the breadth of the public health field.
Recently I attended a webinar hosted by practitioners from Birmingham City Council in which they opened with the phrase ‘medicine is failed prevention’ – I feel I channel this ethos through my work and will continue to do so as I progress in my career.
What has been the highlight of your research involvement/career?
In March 2022, I attended my first conference (the Southwest Public Health Science conference), at which Michael Marmot also presented. I enjoyed the experience consolidating our preliminary findings into a coherent abstract and oral presentation, and having a fruitful discussion with an audience of practitioners and academics possessing common research interests and methodological expertise. Secondly, finding out that I was successful in obtaining a SPHR PhD studentship at LSHTM was a proud moment for me, as I am aware of how competitive they are. I look forward to maintaining the existing relationships I have made within SPHR institutions across the Universities of Bristol, Sheffield and Lancaster throughout my doctoral research.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career or involvement in public health research?
Go for it! As long as you have an interest in study methodology and furthering health in equitable ways, public health can be tailored to make it work for you. I think a key benefit of public health research is its variety, involving a balance between interacting with stakeholders, collaborating with other researchers, as well as independent reading and writing.