Beatrice Hayes: Mental Health Museum Workshop

Situated within Fieldhead Hospital in Wakefield, Yorkshire, you can find the Mental Health Museum. Nestled within its rooms are a vast array of artefacts exhibiting mental health treatments of the past. Specifically, these artefacts are from the Stanley Royd Hospital, previously known as the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum, closed in 1995. Examples of these artefacts include uniforms, staff diaries, photographs and equipment (the evolution of electro compulsive therapy – ECT – is particularly staggering). Yet, had you visited this venue on Friday 17th January 2020, your intrigue would have been heightened. Amongst the historical curiosities were modern curiosities: an interdisciplinary group of individuals with a common interest in mental health research.

Hosted by the Emerging Minds Network, based at the University of Oxford, a day of talks, workshops and networking took place at the fascinating Mental Health Museum. As a Psychology PhD student, researching mental health within the digital age, I was particularly enthused to participate in this event. Alongside the activities, an illustrator was documenting the proceedings through images, which was great fun! The day began with an opening talk by Professor Cathy Creswell (lead of the Emerging Minds Network) introducing the network and outlining its Research Challenges: Embracing Complexity; Voices, Power and Attitudes; Supporting the Supporters.

Following this, Mary Robson (from Durham University) lead a brainstorming session to identify the key aims that we, as an interdisciplinary group, wanted to achieve by the end of the day. Within our interdisciplinary group, there was a mix of researchers and practitioners from a great array of backgrounds. During activities, next to the coffee machine, and on search for a water fountain, I alone met PhD students, lecturers, an illustrator, a research director and an app developer. Furthermore, young people from the McPin Foundation attended the event; their contribution was invaluable within discussions. The brainstorming session was thus a fantastic opportunity for embracing the diversity whilst uniting the group and focusing on collaborative goals.

We then enjoyed a presentation by Dr James Stark (from the University of Leeds), a historian with interest in interdisciplinary collaborations. Dr Stark described a collaborative project he had participated in alongside a social scientist and a graphic designer; the project aim was to encourage effective handwashing practices in primary schools. By working together and combining expertise from their different disciplines, as well as including the children’s creativity and views, their project proved a success. We then proceeded to tour the Mental Health Museum and separate into small groups to discuss the development of mental health research, as well as public opinion and societal changes. I was fortunate to be in a group with three historians soaking up as much knowledge as I could! Quick lunch break and change of room before we commenced the afternoon activities.

To begin the afternoon, Denise Wheatman from Wakefield City Council gave a presentation about the Wakefield Resilience Framework. This was a fascinating resource that had originated from a small group of individuals based on the Teen Pregnancy Project in Wakefield. Following cuts and the end of this particular programme, the group collaborated with researchers, analysts and designers to formulate a brand-new set of resources: the Wakefield Resilience Framework. It was particularly inspiring to hear about their accomplishment, particularly in terms of the young people they had reached. As the final activity of the day, Mary Robson lead a collaborative creative task in groups. We were assigned large pieces of grid paper, pens and sticky notes. Using these tools, we were asked to design a map of an island using visual representations of current mental health research within the UK.

My group decided to take the optimist’s route and designed an island which captured the ideal mental health climate. Imagine if you will, a mountain with rain clouds of funding, rivers trickling down through the island to all villages, towns and cities (regardless of socioeconomic status) reaching all individuals. Then the rivers met the sea where waves disseminated the funding, research and knowledge to islands further afield (yes – we had an illustrator in our group!). As abstract as this may sound, it sparked great conversation amongst our group members. To finish the day, we all chose a postcard and wrote something that we had learnt from the day; we were informed that these postcards would be randomly posted to us!

The day was a great success, providing all members of the group with the opportunity to learn, network and collaborate. Interdisciplinary connection has an important place in today’s research and practice. I am pleased to have formed relationships as a result of attending this workshop, which will grow into future collaborations. Plus, I received my postcard yesterday!

Beatrice Hayes
Psychology PhD Researcher, Royal Holloway, University of London

Artwork credit to the brilliant Tom Bailey who captured key themes from the day’s discussions.