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24 Nov 2023

How can we build an infrastructure that supports the need for improvements to mental health research and practice?

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How can we build an infrastructure that supports the need for improvements to mental health research and practice?

Dr Will McGovern is Associate Professor of Marginalised Communities at Northumbria University and was one of more than 120 delegates who attended our ‘Strengthening Mental Health Research and Practice’ conference in early November.

The event brought together researchers, practitioners, decision makers, those with lived experience, members of the community and voluntary sector, and many others.

In this blog, he shares his reflections on the day and asks – what next?

Mental health is a substantial and prevalent issues in the North-East of England.  Therefore, from the start of the day and through the breakout sessions I was impressed by the expansive range of issues and contexts being discussed in relation to mental health research and practice.  In the sessions I attended we heard and learned from people with lived experience, early career researchers, post graduate researchers and practitioner researchers. Presentations included PPIE work in prisons, understanding trauma and the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community, food insecurity, mental health in emergency care, and some of the sessions were co-developed and delivered in partnership with people with lived experience and practitioner researchers.  This was the type of content I was there for in relation to my own research and for learning about the wider mental health research and practice community.

All the speakers were clearly engaged with their own research; they spoke with passion and provided insight into their own respective areas.  I thought to myself, there is clearly a demand for this work. I felt this because of the ways in which the audience engaged with the speakers, acknowledged them, and wanted to know more.  These experiences also led me to ask myself (as an early career researcher) What do we do with this drive? What do we do with this energy, this commitment, this insight and this willingness to come together? How can we build an infrastructure that supports this expansive research and the need for improvements to mental health research and practice?

The engagement between conference delegates continued into the breakout sessions and I attended the discussion session on ‘shaping our future mental health priorities’.  Here I observed people with shared and conflicting interests, experiences and agendas coming together and being able to have both collegiate and difficult conversations about mental health research, needs and practice.  What was clear here was the agreement of all in relation to contextual concerns like poverty, exclusion, a lack of opportunity and the need to improve services and build involvement opportunities and research capacity: both with and among communities.  Fundamental conversations were also started here (some were clearly continuing for some people) about who represents the ‘community’, who needs to be involved, what should the research and practice priorities be and what will be important in the future.

I left the conference with a whole new set of questions and thoughts about mental health research that I hadn’t really considered prior to going and I also look forward to, hearing from others who attended the day, and what the next steps are from the conference organisers.

The event was organised by the NIHR ARC North East and North Cumbria and Fuse, The Centre for Translational Research in Public Health. Slides and feedback from the event are available here: (link)

You can read more about the conference, and download the slides, here.