Public Health paths in research: mental health research in practice 

30 Oct 2023

Resources and funding in local authorities continues to be limited. Local authorities are exploring various ways to meet the increasing mental health needs of their residents. Evidence-based decision-making is critical to make best use of the limited resources. Research has an important role in providing robust evidence for effective services and interventions that can improve mental health outcomes for different groups of residents.

In this blog, Sedina Lewis looks at how research can support local authority staff to improve services and reach those who need support the most. Sedina is a recipient of NIHR ARC North Thames Mental Health Research for All funding.


How are you currently engaging in research within your practice?

In February 2023, I received funding through the NIHR ARC North Thames Mental Health Research for All (MH-ALL) scheme. This means I am currently working as a Research Intern with the Mental Health Team at UCL Partners, which is delivering the Havering Youth Wellbeing Census with the London Borough of Havering (LBH) using the #BeeWell survey.

The Havering Youth Wellbeing Census in Havering is closely linked with my day-job as a Public Health Specialist in LBH, which has a focus on the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people. Working with the Mental Health Team at UCLP on the internship has been valuable for informing my practical experience with primary research involving children and young people. For example, I have supported with recruiting schools into the Havering Youth Wellbeing Census and engaged with local partners to explore the inclusion of Elective Home Educated young people in the Havering Youth Wellbeing Census.  

Before my current job role, I worked in the National Guideline Centre (NGC) as a Systematic Reviewer for several years developing clinical guidelines for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). My work experience in the NGC inspired my passion for research and my appreciation for the critical role it has in improving health outcomes and reducing health inequalities. I wanted to be part of the application of research in local/community settings and moved to my current job role in the LBH. After moving to this role, I engaged with some research activities but recognised that engagement with research in local government is limited, mainly due to the lack of resources and capacity.


How did your MH-ALL internship come about?

I found out about the MH-ALL internship and saw it as a fantastic opportunity to get further experience with research and have support with championing research in my workplace. The fact that the internship programme is mental health focused was particularly exciting, as mental health - especially that of children and young people - is a real interest area for me, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The research internship has been a very positive learning experience overall, providing me protected time to focus on research and training to enhance my research skills. I have had access to fantastic resources, courses, and seminars, and have been fortunate to connect with researchers who are passionate about what they do and always willing to share their expertise with me. Being part of such a supportive research community has truly reignited my passion for research, and I am feeling more confident and optimistic about engaging with research in local government and feel more equipped to champion research in my organisation. I’m really pleased to see that my internship has also inspired colleagues within my team to start thinking more actively about research.  

What’s next for you?

I would like to conduct some research following the Havering Youth Wellbeing Census in Havering to measure its impact on decision-making in various settings. For example, I would like to engage with designated mental health leads in schools and explore how the  census findings can inform actions required to improve the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils.

I would also like to utilise the research conducted via the Havering Youth Wellbeing Census as a tool to encourage colleagues in my workplace and demonstrate that engagement with research within local government is attainable.  

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