Dr Rebekah Shallcross, AKA Mamafeminologist, mum of one, feminist, researcher and clinical psychologist has joined the Mental Health Research team at the School of Healthcare, University of Leeds. Here she talks about her research journey, the projects she’s worked on, and what led to her interest in all things #womensmentalhealth

In 2006 I was assigned my ‘last choice’ supervisor for my BSc undergraduate psychology research project (who knows, maybe I was also their ‘last choice’ student?!). The topic area: Implicit Memory Learning *insert crying emoji*. Safe to say, it was not ‘my bag’, and not the most enthusiastic start to my research career.

“When I proposed to write a review on violence within marital relationships, she responded with enthusiasm!

Despite this, in our final year we could choose between a taught course or completing a research dissertation. I chose the dissertation and this time I struck gold with my supervisor! When I proposed to write a review on violence within marital relationships, she responded with enthusiasm! This was research both she and I could get on board with! I don’t think I’d ever worked so hard and with as much motivation as I did on that project. It was the one piece of undergrad work where I was awarded a 1st and so it was here I think my interest in women’s mental health began…

Since then I have worked on several projects examining areas of health and mental health that predominantly affect women, completing my PhD on ‘Child Development Following in Utero Exposure: A Comparison of Novel and Established Antiepileptic Drug Treatment in Pregnancy’. This study compared the developmental outcomes of children under the age of 5 years who were exposed to antiepileptic medication (either levetiracetam or sodium valproate) in pregnancy. You can read more about it here.

Whilst this project didn’t specifically focus on women’s mental health, it gave me an insight into the way that medical profession can sometimes presume to know what is best for women… a theme that I picked up in my next piece of research, which again focused primarily on women’s physical health: ‘Women’s experience of Vulvodynia: A meta-ethnography of existing literature and an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of the journey towards diagnosis’. In this project women talked about their experiences of the medical profession when seeking a diagnosis for vulvodynia (an idiopathic pain experienced in the vulva) – and it was NOT GOOD! Some of the experiences that women had were shocking to me, and in others ways totally predictable (but that’s a whole other blog!)… you can read more about this study here and here.

“I knew I wanted to research perinatal mental health, domestic violence, sexual assault and all things #womensmentalhealth”

At this point, I definitely felt like a theme was developing, although I still wasn’t entirely sure what. It wasn’t until I saw an advert for a Post Doc Research Associate at The Centre for Women’s Mental Health at the University of Manchester that I even knew that Women’s Mental Health as a research topic was a thing! The project was looking at the effectiveness of perinatal mental health services for mothers in the first year of life: The ESMI study. It made me so excited! I applied, and got the job! This led me to work as an honorary researcher at The Section for Women’s Mental Health at King’s College London, where I spied on a desk Dr Kylee Trevillion’s PhD thesis examining how mental health services respond to domestic violence. I thought to myself: “This is the kind of research for me!” That really was a ‘lightbulb moment’ for me – whilst I had been broadly researching women’s mental health, I hadn’t ever really connected the dots in my mind before and named it as such. Now, I knew I wanted to research perinatal mental health, domestic violence, sexual assault and all things #womensmentalhealth. Ever since that realisation or ‘lightbulb moment’, it has been much easier for me to focus my attention on what to research. 

While I was working on the ESMI study, I was introduced to Prof Liz Hughes (@LizHughesDD) and instantly knew I wanted her to be my mentor! As we worked on the MiMoS grant application together, I asked and she said yes! And this really was a turning point for me: having Liz as my mentor has really helped me to focus, clarify my next steps, and envisage the research (and clinical) career that I want, whilst also helping me to gain that ever-so-elusive work-life-balance! Of particular importance with a 1-year old in tow…

Whilst Liz and I (and the rest of the MiMoS team) waited to hear the outcome of the application, I was lucky enough to work on the fantastic REPROVIDE project in Bristol: a study looking at the effectiveness of group programmes as an intervention for men who perpetrate domestic violence against their female partners. It was such a great experience working with researchers who were passionate about improving outcomes for people experiencing domestic violence. The success of the MiMos grant meant that I had to leave the REPROVIDE team, but we are now collaborating on a Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) grant examining how change happens within these programmes.

It is an honour to be fortunate enough to exercise my passion pursuing research that aims to make a real difference to the mental health service provision of sexual assault survivors across the UK”

So now I find myself back in the North working as a Work Package Lead on the MiMoS study: an NIHR funded study looking at the Effectiveness of Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs), which I helped to develop. It is an honour to be fortunate enough to exercise my passion pursuing research that aims to make a real difference to the mental health service provision of sexual assault survivors across the UK – and a far cry from neuroscience and the world of implicit memory learning!

The following links provide further support relating to the topics discussed in this blog:

You can contact Rebekah directly at mamafeminologist@gmail.com, or follow her on:

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