all things #womensmentalhealth

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:

April/May Update

Since our last update, we’ve published three blogs, won 2 prizes and published another paper. In April, Emily Pattinson wrote about the new study led by Liz Hughes that will explore NHS staff views about collecting sexual identity data from patients. Then, Susan Guthrie blogged about embarking on her PhD as one of the new CArDiNAL Fellows. Finally, Krysia Canvin marked Menstrual Hygiene Day 2019 by revisiting the issue of period poverty and its impact on service users’ dignity in mental health settings. She concluded by reflecting on how, ultimately service users’ dignity is at the centre of all our research endeavours.

Out and About

Leila Sharda, final year PhD student, attended the Faculty of Liaison Psychiatry Annual Conference, 15th May – 17th May. The conference was held at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in London and focused on long term conditions. Leila’s research examines how general hospitals respond to patients diagnosed with a personality disorder who are distressed. She presented a poster and gave a talk about the adverse responses these patients receive. Leila’s work was very well received: she was awarded joint first prize for her oral presentation by the panel of expert judges.

Leila’s poster of her PhD findings

Dakota Scollen (@DakotaScollen), third year mental health nursing student, attended the Future of Mental Health Nursing Conference in Edinburgh after winning a competition. Entrants were invited to submit a quote that captures the essence of Mental Health Nursing. Dakota won with her entry, a favourite quote from Alice in Wonderland:

“When you can’t look on the bright side, we’ll sit with you in the dark”

The Mad Hatter, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Look out for Dakota’s blog about the conference, coming soon.

Latest Publications

The contribution of mental health services to a new strategic direction for sexual assault and abuse services

Liz Hughes contributed to a paper published recently in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine led by Professor Charlie Brooker. The paper reports a freedom of information request to NHS mental health care providers to ask whether they had a clear pathway to sexual assault referral centres following disclosure of sexual assaults by people using their services. Very few trusts reported that they had such a pathway. Given that sexual violence is not uncommon in people who use mental health services, and that sexual assault has a significant impact on mental health, there is a need for better joined up services.

Look out for a blog about Liz’ related study about the effectiveness of sexual assault referral centres with regard to mental health and substance use, coming soon.

March Update

This month we published two blogs written by PhD students affiliated to the Mental Health Research Group. Both Susan and Angela are engaged in important work that focuses on areas of which the public – including many of us working in mental health – are unaware. On Delusion Awareness Day, Angela gave us an insight into the occurrence of delusions in intensive care. Susan then brought our attention to the difficulties eating, drinking and swallowing that may be experienced by people with mental health conditions on Swallowing Awareness Day.

Out and About

Liz was invited to speak at a joint mental health and HIV cross party group at the Scottish Government on 20th March. Liz described her systematic review (available free from The Lancet) of blood borne viruses in people with serious mental illness and how there is limited data in BBV prevalence in this group in the UK. She then introduced her new feasibility study of sexual health promotion for people with severe mental illness: the Respect study (details coming soon).

Nicola held a very successful World Café event on 14th March in collaboration with staff from Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust (RDaSH). Thirty-five carers and carer champions attended the event and their contributions (pictured) – and some very large slices of cake – made the day a great success. We learned a lot about what carers want from health research and how they would like to be involved. The project is funded by the School of Healthcare Pump Priming Fund and supported by the RDaSH Patient and Public Engagement Team.

John attended the two-day Educational Meeting on the Multidisciplinary Management of Acute Disturbance hosted by the British Association for Psychopharmacology (BAP) and the National Association of Psychiatric Intensive Care & Low Secure Units (NAPICU). The event made it clear just how little research has been conducted into the use of rapid tranquilisation (particularly how to reduce its use), and services users’ views of this practice. Evidence-based guidance on the clinical management of acute disturbance (de-escalation and rapid tranquilisation) produced jointly by BAP and NAPICU in 2018 is available online from BAP.

Latest Publications

Sexual Violence and Mental Health Services: A Call to Action

Liz published an editorial in which she issues a call for action on sexual violence in mental health services. In the absence of routine enquiry about experiences of sexual violence, the editorial explores the evidence and makes some recommendations about how staff can discuss sexual issues.

Provision of Care for Women in the Postpartum Period (STUDY Protocol)

Rebekah Shallcross, who recently joined us here in Leeds, has published the protocol for the ESMI study, a collaboration with University of Manchester and Kings College London. The study will compare the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of mother and baby units with general psychiatric inpatient wards and crisis resolution team services.

Staff Experiences and Understandings of the REsTRAIN Yourself Initiative

Finally, John has published the first in a series of papers coming out this year that present findings from REsTRAIN Yourself. REsTRAIN Yourself is the UK adaptation of “6 Core Strategies”, an intervention designed to reduce the use of restrictive practices. The study was led by Professor Joy Duxbury, now at Manchester Metropolitan University, and the toolkit is free to download.