Looking beyond medicine – a new network for mental health research

Case study
Talking about
Research and collaboration relating to mental health
The Leeds Interdisciplinary Mental Health Research Network

The Leeds Interdisciplinary Mental Health Research Network (LIMHRN) is jointly led by Associate Professor of Mental Health Psychology, Dr Siobhan Hugh-Jones and Professor of French Studies, Sarah Waters.

Although they come from different disciplines, both work on research relating to mental health, and were aware of others engaged in this research field from different perspectives, or those who were keen to get involved but weren’t sure how their expertise would contribute.

Launched in January 2022, the network has had a successful start, thanks in part to Horizons Institute support.

They began to gather the names of researchers working across the University on mental health – from diverse fields such as business, the humanities, environment and health sciences. Their aim was to build collaborations to meet real and pressing mental health challenges. Siobhan was already leading a global mental health group when Horizons Institute Director Stuart Taberner suggested a broad cross-disciplinary network that could be supported by the Institute.

Subsequent Horizons Institute funding enabled the group to appoint a part-time research assistant, who helped set up a new website and provide support on social media.

Horizons Research Manager, Abi Rowson, who specialises in creativity and partnerships, also provided the Network with advice and help.

Recognition and support

Siobhan felt the impact straight away. She says: “Having Horizons support immediately gave us recognition and legitimacy within the University, confirming mental health as an area of investment at Leeds. It has made it much easier to drive things forward knowing we are not in a vacuum, but within a recognised structure.”

Another benefit has been the ease of finding pathways and connections to other resources in the University.

We’ve been invited to present to both the Faculty of Health’s Faculty Research and Innovation Committee, as well as to the Medical and Health Research Clinical Trials Unit. I know if I had tried to get on FRIC’s agenda as an individual, it wouldn’t have happened so smoothly.

Dr Siobhan Hugh-Jones, Associate Professor of Mental Health Psychology

The Horizons package will last for a year and comes without any demands for traditional results – an attitude that the team find very helpful. Sarah says: “This has given us a great safety net – we know we have a year of support to really dig in and see where we can get to and see what the response is from the University research body, without having to make huge promises about what it might deliver.”

Early successes

Within the first nine ‘official’ months of the Network, much has been achieved.

Seminar series have been organised for the network members around particular themes, such as mental health and work, student mental health, physical and mental health, and mental health and humanities. These presentations were delivered by people at different career stages within the university, with varying expertise and methodologies.

Each seminar is followed by open-floor discussions. In particular, the network has reached out to Leeds’s Early Career Researchers, holding targeted workshops on funding and grant writing skills, introducing them to researchers in other disciplines, and working with them on a specific grant call.

The Network has worked closely with InterActiveUoL, a sister network promoting research into physical activity, and they held a joint seminar on co-production methods.

A series on child and adolescent mental health is being planned, linking with other child-focused networks across the region.

External partnerships

The Network has already attracted interest from external organisations, such as Hull City Council and The Samaritans and is now building on that interest, brokering links with local and national partners.

One example is Leeds City Council’s Public Mental Health Team, who are seeking stronger links with the University to drive research to inform policy. After a meeting with the team, Siobhan and Sarah were able to circulate the Council’s potential research projects to the 100 members of the network, receiving a promising response.

The Network also met with representatives from the Wellcome Trust during their recent visit to the University, where the funder highlighted its renewed focus on interdisciplinary mental health research. Sarah says: “Wellcome are keen to inspire researchers to apply for funding, so it was a really productive meeting – and we were an easy ‘find’ for the University because we were already functioning successfully as a group.”

Funding from Horizons is confirmed until June 2023. Siobhan says: “Our ambition was to create a forum for people to learn from and collaborate with each other – and that’s already working. We want to strengthen those foundations so people can build their own interdisciplinary partnerships for mental health research. This is what funders want, and usually, what the mental health challenges require.”