Ethical, political and methodological dilemmas in doing survivor research

18 Nov 2022
'Last night I was shot, you were shot too’: 
Ethical, political and methodological dilemmas in doing survivor research in mental health 

In this seminar, adopting an autoethnographic approach and drawing on personal experiences as a service user researcher in English Universities, Dr Konstantina (Dina) Poursanidou explored the identity and other (ethical, political and methodological) struggles implicated in the task of constructing and negotiating her double/liminal identity as an academic researcher and a mental health service user. In discussion with the audience, she interrogated crucial concerns that have dominated her conversations with other service user/survivor researchers in academia over the years through some hard questions such as: 

  1. How to manage the significant emotional labour and the acutely complex ethical and political dilemmas involved in using our lived experience of distress and mental health service use as ‘an instrument of knowing’ in mental health research? How to care for ourselves and our mental health when carrying out research work that necessitates maintaining continuous contact with experiences of madness and with the discomfort and terror they can generate? 
  2. How to negotiate the demand to incessantly disclose details of our histories of mental ill health in order to be deemed ‘authentic’ survivor researchers in academia, when such disclosures are irreversible and carry significant emotional and professional costs? 
  3. How to survive as service user/survivor researchers in the neoliberal University, when faced with unsettling relations with non service user researchers/academics, a ruthlessly competitive labour market, financial and psychological precarity and casualisation, lack of clear career pathways and obstacles to career progression even for the most qualified and experienced survivor researchers? 
  4. How to survive as service user/survivor researchers in academia when we are acutely aware that our ‘valuable lived experience of mental distress and service use’ aside, we are actually a liability when our academic worth is measured on the basis of productivity and publications in high impact factor journals? 
  5. How to reconcile ‘the essentially partisan and political nature of user-controlled research, committed to improving people’s lives’ (Beresford, 2005, p.6) with the need to achieve the detachment, impartiality and critical interpretive distance that mental health research requires?  

The seminar was hosted by the ISS21 Disability & Mental Health Research Cluster and chaired by Lydia Sapouna.

A recording of the seminar is available here

Dr Konstantina (Dina) Poursanidou 
Konstantina (Dina) is a Service User Researcher in mental health. She started using mental health services in 1991. Her doctoral and post-doctoral research has spanned a range of fields including mental health, education, child health, youth justice and social policy/social welfare.  She has worked in a number of Universities in England as a Service User Researcher and held a 3-year Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Patient and Public Involvement and Improvement/Implementation Science at the Service User Research Enterprise in the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London. She is a member of Asylum, the radical mental health magazine editorial group, as well as one of the directors of the UK-based Survivor Researcher Network Community Interest Company. She is currently carrying out a knowledge mobilisation project in the area of physical health needs of people with severe mental health conditions at the University of Central Lancashire in the north of England.   

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