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Five people sat conversing around a table together

The Institute for Medical Humanities (IMH), in partnership with the National Survivor User Network (NSUN), were proud to host a roundtable discussion with mental health-focused organisations in the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector, alongside Durham University researchers, in London on 29 June. The purpose of the event was to inform and shape the Institute’s future strategy for developing and sustaining long-term partnerships and research exchanges within the VCSE sector.

The IMH aims to improve health by understanding ‘hidden experiences’ which are marginalised, difficult, unspeakable, unacknowledged or invisible. Mental health is a key focus of this research, which foregrounds the creative and critical approaches of the humanities and social sciences. We believe that mental health research – whether it is pursued in academic, clinical or community settings – needs to do more to attend to these hidden experience(s) if real change is to be achieved in practice. The Institute’s Critical Medical Humanities approach emphasises interdisciplinarity collaboration and engagement with communities, health professionals, the voluntary sector, and creative practitioners. We view these partners as crucial and equal stakeholders in the research process, whose time and commitments should be equally valued and funded. We aim to develop long-term partnerships which allow co-production to be embedded from the very start of developing research questions through to the research process.

To this end, IMH and Akiko Hart from NSUN invited a range leaders and organisations representing the VCSE mental health sector passionate about research, such as Mind, Centre for Mental Health, Mental Health Foundation, and Rethink Mental Illness, to capture their thoughts on, and help guide the Institute’s planning of, the design of our VCSE engagement. The event also aimed to help to develop and sustain meaningful, long-term partnerships and research exchanges amongst those in the VCSE sector, supporting co-produced research to be developed and to ensure that our partnership engagement is sufficiently resourced and supported to truly benefit the sector.

Facilitated by ICA consultant and director, Jonathon Dudding, the event explored three key questions:

  • What (if any) value do you see in expanding the contribution of the humanities and social sciences within mental health research?
  • What structures and support could we put in place to enable an effective exchange between researchers, NGOs, and the wider health sector?
  • What additional resources and offers should we be exploring as part of the initiative?

To expand on these areas of focus, delegates participated in various roundtable discussions centred around questions such as:

  • What research topics in mental health would benefit from wider input from the humanities and social sciences?
  • What successes or challenges have you experienced (or do you foresee) in conducting such collaborative/engaged research?
  • What ideas do you have for strengthening engaged research in mental health?
  • What is needed to enable the VCSE sector to engage fully in this initiative?

The IMH kindly thanks all delegates and organisations involved for their valued participation and welcomes further feedback and exchanges on these topics by email to Evelyn Tehrani (Senior Manager) at