This is a guest post by Kerry Montgomery (@kmonty83), Ana Coneo & Kate Adkins (@AdkinsKate), PhD students in Psychology and part of the Sheffield centre for Medical Humanities.

Picture1.pngRecently we were successful in gaining a grant for researcher-led activity via Think Ahead to hold a symposium, titled: From stigma to inclusion: Understanding the individual experience of mental health. As PhD students with an interest in stigma we wanted to bring people together with similar interests to think about taking a research idea forward, mainly, how can research reduce stigma and discrimination? Organising a symposium is definitely an excellent way of connecting with people and developing an understanding of what is involved in holding events (don’t underestimate how long it can take to set up an email account or organise tickets!).

The symposium was chaired by Dr Andrew Thompson from Clinical Psychology who introduced the event and the speakers. We were delighted to have speakers from a range of backgrounds. Professor Rob Poole from the University of Bangor started the symposium with an introduction to what stigma is and targets for intervention. Professor Poole suggested that we should look at discrimination more closely and that the fight against stigma and discrimination should be led by people with lived experience as they have a true understanding of what is needed. This presentation also raised the question of the impact that increasing public knowledge and awareness of mental health was having on stigma and discrimination.

Mark Knowles from Sheffield Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) was next and talked about his experiences of patient and public involvement. Whilst Mark describes how NHS services have people with lived experience at job interviews for clinical posts, and to elicit feedback on services, we still need to do more. The view of one or two ‘expert patients’ is not going to reflect the views of many, and what about those who don’t access services?

Professor Brendan Stone and Kathryn Littlewood talked about their personal experiences of mental health and services. Very poignant and inspiring talks led to much discussion about how we can work to improve experiences of people within mental health services. The symposium provided a good platform for clinicians, academics, and people with lived experience to share their views of what is going well and what needs more work. The talks certainly inspired us to think about what more we can do, as researchers.

Picture2.pngWe were lucky to have a graphic illustrator at the symposium. Sarah did a great job in drawing illustrations of the talks as they were happening and everyone was very impressed with the visual representation of the event. We would definitely ask Sarah to support us at another event.

Feedback was very positive, people wanted to have a full day event and more time for discussion on this topic. Whilst we were nervous initially about running the symposium (a bit like when you have a birthday party – you worry no one will turn up!) we were really happy with how the evening went and the feedback.

We didn’t want this to be an event that happens and then nothing comes out of it. Our first step is to use the funds we have from Think Ahead to form a research group of people who are interested in this area. We have already had lots of ideas in the feedback of how we can structure the group meetings. We think this will be a great opportunity to form collaboration with other disciplines, an opportunity that may not be possible without the support from Think Ahead.