I completed my undergraduate degree in Criminology and Psychology at the University of Westminster, then went on to complete a Graduate Diploma in Psychology. In 2015 I was awarded a PhD for my thesis entitled ‘Understanding Suicidal Behaviours by Probation Clients: A Near-Lethal Approach.’ I then secured a part time lecturer post at the University of Westminster, whilst carrying out my Post-Doctoral Research with Dr Jo Borrill from the University of Westminster, and Dr Lisa Marzano at the University of Middlesex. The research was funded by Network Rail, and involved a large mixed-methods project to understand why people might choose to end their lives on the railways. In 2016 I applied for position of lecturer in Forensic Psychology and am currently co-module leader for the level 6 module Forensic Psychology.
My research focuses on understanding how environmental context is important in suicide prevention. I am also currently involved with several projects aimed at understanding self-harm by University students, and what can be done to support them. I am a qualitative researcher, but the projects I work on are mixed methods.
Probation Suicide Prevention: When I first started researching suicide in probation settings there was very little research that existed. The research that did exist very much focussed on highlighting the elevated levels of suicide by people serving probation sentences. There was no research that specially sought to understand how the probation process might be linked to suicide (i.e. specific stages of a person’s sentence). Findings from my research, as well as my colleagues, have now started to address these gaps in knowledge. Findings from my research have been integrated into the suicide prevention training run by the National Probation Service (NPS). I have organised and run a number of workshops for probation staff across the UK about how to prevent suicide in probation settings. For example, in 2017, myself and Forensic Psychologists at NPS London developed and ran a one-day event which focused on best practice for reducing suicides in National Probation settings. The event was funded by the Sir Halley Stewart Trust and was open to 150 probation practitioners and those involved in suicide prevention, such as members of suicide prevention charities. The event comprised of a series of talks from researchers and practitioners, as well as interactive workshops run by experts in the field. Additionally, I have been invited to a range of events to discuss my research findings with probation practitioners (e.g. the NPS London Suicide and Self-harm Prevention Forum), and have highlighted the issue of suicide by offenders serving probation sentences to the wider public through outlets such as ‘The Conversation.’
Suicides on the Railways: Since 2015 I have worked with a multidisciplinary team of academics (including Lisa Marzano - PI, Bob Fields, Ian Krueger from the University of Middlesex) to understand how to prevent suicides on the railways. Our research (The QUEST Study) into suicides on the railways was funded by Network Rail in 2015. This research involved a series of studies which aimed to understand why people might choose to end their lives on the British Railways. The project led to key changes in how the rail industry make announcements about suicides at stations, and resulted in the media award winning campaign ‘small talk saves lives’. During a two-month time frame the campaign created 117 million opportunities for public viewing on social media. Reached 16.2m people through newspaper, online and broadcast, and led to a 406% increase in views on the Samaritans website. The rail industry reported a 20% increase in bystander inventions for suicide by members of the public in the year following the campaign. It has also been included in the Preventing suicide in England: Fourth progress report of the cross government outcomes strategy to save lives. The team secured further funding to explore what role bystanders play in preventing suicides. Are all interventions perceived as helpful? What makes an effective intervention? This project has just finished and we are in the process of publishing our findings. As part of this work, we have analysed CCTV footage of people who have either died by suicide at a railway location or have survived (through an intervention), and have identified several behaviours that could potentially signify that a person is in distress.
Self-Harm by University Students: University is a unique context and can be a stressful time. Since 2016 I have also been involved in projects that have sought to understand self-harm by University students. The first, the HUSSH study (Helping Understand Student Self-Harm), was funded by the British Academy. Findings from the project have provided insight into specific issues that may trigger self-harm by students, as well as what can be done to support them. We have produced a leaflet for organisations and Universities summarising these findings. This project identified another gap in knowledge. We found that many people were taking on supporting roles for their loved ones who were self-harming, but that there was little knowledge about what this involved and how they felt about it. So our second project sought to understand the experiences of people providing support to University students who self-harm. This project (Cherish) was funded by the Sir Halley Stewart Trust. The team (Laura Culshaw, Nina Smyth, and Tina Cartwright – University of Westminster) will be soon be launching a website with resources for people who are providing support to a person who self-harms whilst at University.