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  5. Critical approaches to mental health

Critical approaches to mental health

Drawing on disparate influences from critical, community and social psychology, the research in this strand shares a commitment to interrogating and critiquing existing practices in mental health. This includes, but is not limited to, working with alternative approaches to psychological and medical models of mental health, critiquing pathologizing practices, and theorising mental health as relational and psychosocial, rather than individual, phenomena.

Projects within the theme

A Qualitative Study of the Mulberry Bush Organisation (2015 - 2020) (Heather Price and David Jones)

This residential children’s home and school, arguably the first children’s therapeutic community, supports children with very high levels of social and emotional disturbance. Research has included a qualitative ethnographic psychosocial study of the Mulberry Bush’s therapeutic milieu and a critical evaluation of the reflective practice model used to train and support its therapeutic care practitioners and specialist teaching staff.

COVID-19 and mental health (2020 - Ongoing) (Laura McGrath)

In collaboration with the Matilda Centre, University of Sydney, this is a longitudinal, mixed-methods study investigating impacts of COVID-19 on the mental health and wellbeing of Australians. The project includes survey research unpicking the factors affecting mental health and substance use during the pandemic with a focus on social determinants, including the role of housing, social networks, community and neighbourhood, trauma, employment, income and past life experiences. In addition, the project team is completing a systematic review of the literature on the relationship between the built environment and loneliness, and a qualitative participatory mapping study exploring experiences of home and wellbeing during and after lockdown.

Rethinking the ‘paraphilias’ (Darren Langdridge)

This project offers a critique of pathologizing perspectives on what have traditionally been termed the ‘paraphilias’ in psychiatric diagnostic manuals. It has included empirical and theoretical work on BDSM, including a substantive empirical project on the behaviour known as ‘puppy play’. The focus in this work is to engage with these practices and identities in their own terms, through a phenomenological perspective, and offer up theoretical critique of the enduring attempts to pathologise consensual sexual practices. Some representative outputs from this work include:

Langdridge, D. & Lawson, J. (2019). The psychology of puppy play: a phenomenological investigation. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 48(7), 2201-2215,

Langdridge, D. & Butt, T. (2004). A hermeneutic phenomenological investigation of the construction of sadomasochistic identities. Sexualities, 7(1), pp. 31-53.

Narratives of ADHD: A qualitative study of women’s narrative accounts of living with ADHD (2015 – 2016) (Paul Stenner, Lindsay O’Dell, Alison Davies and Mary Horton -Salway)

This project was an interview-based qualitative study designed to explore the experiences and sense-making of adult women who have either a formal, or self-defined, diagnosis of ADHD. This study’s focus on the experiences of adult women is important because understandings and patterns of diagnosis of ADHD can be seen to be gendered, with most research focusing on male children. The research aimed to explore how ADHD impacted on the lives of these women and their sense of identity. The project did not claim to generate objective facts about ADHD as a medical condition; instead, it examined retrospective accounts of key moments in the women’s childhood and transition to adulthood. ADHD was seen as fundamental to identity and provided a way of reinterpreting the past and understanding current problems and difficulties. The first publication from this study is:

Stenner, P. O'Dell, L. and Davies, A. (2019) ‘Adult women and ADHD: On the temporal dimensions of ADHD identities’, Journal for the theory of social behaviour, 49(2), pp. 179–197. doi: 10.1111/jtsb.12198.

Cross Disciplinary Thinking About ‘Anti-social Personality Disorder' (2014 - 2017) (David W. Jones)

This 3-year seminar series was designed to promote international and cross disciplinary collaboration on the issue of ‘antisocial personality disorder.’ The central argument was that although this issue is currently receiving a great deal of government and penal attention there is a danger of too narrow a focus on the psychological characteristics of individuals and insufficient attention being paid to the social and cultural features that have created and maintain these ways of being.

Creative community approaches to distress (2016 - 2020) (Laura McGrath)

This is a series of collaborative evaluation and research projects working with activity-based, non-clinical approaches to working with distress and recovery. Including work in both institutional and community settings, within and outside statutory services. Examples include participatory arts, walking and reading groups, all aimed at those with experiences of distress and mental health service use. Sitting between individualised clinical practice and social prescribing, which links service users with existing community activities, these groups offer liminal spaces of safety and creativity tailored to, but not defined by, people’s experiences of distress.

A psychosocial theory of violence (David Kaposi)

Funded by the ISRF Mid-Career Fellowship scheme, this psychoanalytically informed project explores the inter- and intra-subjective dynamics leading to violent acts. The project is grounded in a mixed-methods re-examination of original tapes of the Milgram experiments, and the concept accounting for its results: implicit violence. Going against 60 years of scholarship, this is not the violence of the ‘order’ or the explicit statement, but of the silence, the body, or what resides between explicit utterances. The violence of an atmosphere that has been built up by subtle and often unrecognised ways. The broader project extrapolates the empirical findings towards a theoretical account where violence, instead of residing in individuals, is understood as a valence of relationships.