I wear two hats in my professional life. One role is as a clinical psychologist working with people experiencing psychological and mental health difficulties. The other is a university staff member involved in research and working with trainee clinical psychologists. While there seems to be some good systems in place for users of mental health services to have their say about treatment (although this could be much better), I think there could be more effort put into getting the general public involved in research.
Some people and organisations are making great efforts around this. But, we can do even better. In my university job, I am involved with, and see all sorts of research designed to help people. However, I don't often see active engagement with the public across the various phases of these projects to help answer questions at key stages of the research process (e.g., what to research, how this information is taken back non-academics).
Ways to be Involved
One organisation trying to address this issue is INVOLVE. This is a UK advisory group that supports public involvement in research. INVOLVE is part of the National Institute for Health Research (a body that coordinates and supports health research in the UK health system). INVOLVE describes public engagement in research at various levels. One role involves consultation, and INVOLVE defines this as one in which "...you ask members of the public for their views and use these views to inform your decision making. Consultation can be about any aspect of the research process – from identifying topics for research through to thinking about the implications of research findings". Public involvement can help researchers answer questions such as "What are the most important topics to investigate?" and "Is this research likely to provide tangible benefits?"
Research with Men
A major research interest of mine is men's mental health and wellbeing. I have some ideas around future research, but would really like to get some non-academic people involved in deciding which topic to pursue. Here are some potential topics I have come up with:
- Men receiving treatment for depression: What aspects of psychological treatment work well from the perspective of the guy receiving help? For instance, are there certain behaviours on the part of the therapist that makes men feel more comfortable (e.g., using 'plain language')? Are particular treatment strategies preferred over others (e.g., would rather focus on depression-fighting behaviour strategies rather than 'talking')?
- Men as carers of those with medical or mental health illnesses: What is the impact of caregiving on a male's self-image or masculinity? How can we use this information to help men cope more effectively as carers.
- Using positive aspects of the male stereotype: How and when do men use attributes such as courage and resilience for the benefit of his own mental health? How can we get more benefit for men out of such attributes.
I want to know your thoughts and votes on these potential topics. I would then like to start a project on the most popular topic, and keep interested people in the loop through a regular blog. I would also like to have people involved throughout the project when and where possible. The first thing you can do is vote for one of the above ideas. Pick the one that sounds most interesting and/or valuable to you. Also feel free to contact me with any comments or suggestions you have. Research should not be confined to us campus dwellers alone. All of should have the chance to influence the direction of this work.