By Ranjana Das
As a department which produces research and teaching at the intersections of its three strands – sociology, criminology and media and communications – mental health research has been a theme which has brought together and cut across Surrey Sociology’s interdisciplinarity significantly. On the occasion of World Mental Health Day, we take the opportunity in this blog to showcase a few pieces of research our colleagues have been doing on mental health and wellbeing.
The sociology of mental health runs through much of the work described in this blog and has been a natural thematic focus in the department.
- Rob Meadows has been working on mental health for many years. His work on sleep (and also addiction) looks at how difficulties with these invite far more than individual, clinical explanations alone, and invite our attention to the shaping role of broader sociological factors. Recent work with colleagues on AI and mental health (see below) engages with sociological questions about the presence or absence of notions of recovery in this context.
- Ranjana Das’s new report on the mental health difficulties faced by migrant mothers looks at the role of stigma, mother-blame and isolation, in addition to difficulties communicating with healthcare professionals in migrant mothers facing increased perinatal mental health difficulties. This work was funded by the Wellcome Trust.
- Adnan Mouhiddin’s research also relates to this key role of stigma around mental health as he has explored the critical role of stigma surrounding psychological interventions amongst Syrian youth in the context of war and war-induced destabilisation.
Fascinating work has been occurring at the intersections of criminology and mental health and wellbeing –
- Karen Bullock and Jon Garland have assessed processes through which some police officers with mental ill-health experience stigmatization in police organizations. They have argued that in order to tackle these negative attitudes constabularies must do more to address the processes of stigmatisation associated with mental ill-health at the individual and institutional levels.
- Jon Garland and Paul Hodkinson have researched the impact of victimisation and targeted hate crime against sub-cultures. Drawing on qualitative interviews with respondents mostly affiliated to the goth scene, their research uncovers extensive experience of verbal harassment and, for some respondents, repeated incidents of targeted violence leading to physical and emotional wellbeing related implications around targeted hate crime.
- Dan McCarthy has been developing work on the physical and psychological health consequences of Vitamin D deficiencies amongst prisoners. This is work in collaboration with colleagues in nutritional science.
- Megan Georgiou is researching mental health inequalities in prison and how health and justice services are meeting the mental health needs of people in prison, as part of her doctoral research.
Mental health, wellbeing and digital communication has been a clear recent strand of research –
- Rob Meadows, Christine Hine and Eleanor Suddaby’s new research on the role of Artificial Intelligence in the form of chatbots, for mental health recovery is a fascinating new strand of research which looks at the complex intersections of conversational agents with those seeking help with mental health issues.
- Emily Setty has been researching wellbeing in terms of how it relates to how risk and shame and how young people treat themselves and one another in their sexual/relational peer cultures in digital societies, particularly in the context of sexting. She has focused recently on challenging risk and harm through bystander intervention and anti-bullying strategies. Her work on teenage boys explores issues around banter, resilience and shaming, and her research on teenage girls and sexting explores issues around abusive practices, shaming and inequality.
- Ranjana Das has done work on the role of social media in mothers’ perinatal wellbeing and mental health, with funding from the British Academy. This work has revealed nuanced roles of technology, rather than solely positive or negative, and she has suggested that we need to look at the digital in balanced, context-sensitive way whilst improving offline provisions for mothers.
- Paul Hodkinson and Ranjana Das have done similar work also in relation to fathers mental health in the period after having a new baby. Their recent report highlights the numerous strategies taken up by men to code, mask, and on occasion disclose their struggles using mediated communication, whether with friends and family, or with others online.
Importantly, while the thematisation above offers a convenient means to organise our presentation of this work here, the strands ought not to be regarded as clear-cut or discrete. Rather, across much of this work, we are often cutting across boundaries in search of interdisciplinary understandings.
In addition to research, our undergraduate teaching offers significant space to the issue. Rob Meadows has long run a popular module on the Sociology of Mental Health which has shifted the focus from looking at mental health as an individual condition and considered the nuanced and complex role of society and structure in the ways in which mental health difficulties are experienced approached and addressed. This entails attention to a range of social actors and stakeholders, and attention to academia, policy and practice in taking a sociological approach to mental health and wellbeing rather than solely a clinical one.
The Department of Sociology will continue work on mental health and wellbeing across these strands and is in a particularly useful position in that it hosts academics from across sociology, criminology and media and communications who are able to bring nuanced sociological perspectives to the issue of mental health and wellbeing.