What are your main research interests?
- Developing new, creative and innovative ways of gathering qualitative data
- The impact of inequalities and unfairness on mental health
- Broadening public participation & diversity of voices in public mental health research
- Ensuring research outputs are meaningful to the public & are public facing
- To encourage understanding between academic researchers and Peer research/public involvement contributors.
Can you tell me about your work with the NIHR School for Public Health Research?
I began working as a Peer Researcher on the NIHR SPHR Public Mental Health Programme in May 2019 as part of a team of five Peer researchers from the McPin Foundation. Two years later, in addition to the Peer research role, I was offered the opportunity to be the Public Involvement Coordinator for the programme. I enthusiastically rose to this challenge!
My roles have been interesting and varied. It has undoubtedly been a continuous learning curve and one which I have relished! Work has included:
- facilitating public workshops to help identify and prioritise the determinants of public mental health
- broadening public participation across the PMH programme and working towards making research more inclusive and accessible
- offering a ‘lived experience’ or ‘service user’ perspective on research design protocols and reports
- guiding the team of Peer researchers ensuring their voices are heard across the PMH programme and that their work is embedded into the heart of the research
- Co-creating, implementing & reviewing a ‘Buddy System’ aimed to close the gap between university based academics and Peer researchers
- attending and presenting patient and public involvement (PPI) work at conferences
- planning and implementing a qualitative research project focusing on inequalities and mental health
What impact will/has this research/peer 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
The shift from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of the programme demonstrated a huge improvement in the learning , understanding and impact of Peer research and public involvement across the programme. Phase 1 was evaluated and, as a result, key learnings were identified which led to changes in practice being introduced.
- PMH research projects are now co-designed and co-produced from the onset with Peer researchers and academics working together
- PPI became a standard agenda item at all meetings
- Peer researchers now introduce themselves at all meetings to include their work and educational backgrounds so that they are now seen as more than the face of lived experience of poor mental health
- A Phase 2 study has been led by Peer researchers in collaboration with academics
- The introduction of a Buddy System has forged equal partnerships between university based academics and Peer researchers; this forms a platform for sharing knowledge and experience
The impact of these improvements is far reaching; for example the Buddy System has been acknowledged by the SPHR as a model worthy of expanding. In addition and important to note, is the inclusion of the Peer researcher voice in planning Phase 3 of the programme which is very encouraging.
What made you decide to have a career/choose a pathway in public health research?
I am passionate about mental health and have spent most of my career in the voluntary sector, working from my lived experience and developing community based projects that support and empower service users to improve quality of life. My work had, however, been geographically restricted to London by the confines of funding. I was taking a career break, when the pathway to public health research presented itself to me. The opportunity to bring my lived experience of mental health to an audience wider than I had been able to in the past, very much appealed. I was new to research and public involvement but was excited about learning new skills and meeting people from different disciplines. Ultimately, I felt that the role of Peer researcher (and now Public Involvement Coordinator) would allow me to share my lived experience and that the impact would be far reaching; this was inspiring and gave my work a whole new meaning.
What has been the highlight of your research involvement/career?
There have been several highlights throughout my time so far. If I had to choose, there would be three.
- When in autumn 2020, during lockdown, I reached out to the public to find out how the pandemic was affecting mental health and whether people were doing creative work to demonstrate this. I was overwhelmed by the public’s response. To document their work, we created Covid Life; a repository of work online, showcased on our website #IamPublicMentalHealth The work remains as a legacy to the programme and to the pandemic.
- When I was invited to run a workshop at the NIHR SPHR Annual Scientific Meeting 2021. This was a real opportunity to showcase our involvement work in the PMH programme to a wide audience.
- Working alongside academics from Cambridge University to co-produce a series of creative cards, named ‘Postcard Palette’. This is being piloted as a new method of gathering qualitative data, in a project which is focussed on older people.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career or involvement in public health research?
My advice would be to keep an open mind and be prepared to learn something new every day. Look forward to being part of a growing network of Peer researchers. The role of Peer researcher is a unique opportunity to share lived experience for the benefit of populations; this can be cathartic, which, in turn can give meaning and purpose to lived experiences of mental health. Enjoy making a difference!