Community psychology perspectives on student mental health

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By Miles Thompson

The 4th UK Community Psychology Festival is being held on the 23rd and 24th of September 2018 in the Hertford Theatre, Hertford. It follows the success of the 3rd festival, which was held at the Arnolfini in Bristol and was joint hosted by UWE’s Social Science Research Group.

Three members of UWE’s Psychological Sciences Research Group are curating a slot at festival number 4 titled: Community psychology perspectives on student mental health. In the festival spirit they want their session to be as interactive as possible and are asking all festival goers to participate in their session – before it takes place – whether they are able to attend the actual session or not. In short they invite people to read the extract below from their festival abstract and respond:

Mental health problems for students in UK higher education are receiving increased attention. Since 2008, some universities have experienced a threefold increase in demand for student support services. Student suicide has also been on the increase. A new document by Universities UK called “Step Change” has started to shape policy in this area.

You are a psychologist – interested in community psychology – teaching at a UK university. The university has concerns about growing student mental health issues. It is keen to tackle the problem by offering 1st year students a series of “resilience workshops” that focus on individual emotional regulation skills. What community psychology perspectives, evidence and even interventions might you suggest to complement or even replace the current suggestion?

Specifically, we invite festival goers to respond in advance of the session by either:
Posting a comment at the end of this blog post
Tweeting a response using the hashtag #commpsySMH
Or e-mailing: miles2.thompson@uwe.ac.uk with their response.

We plan to spend the timetabled session considering both the responses to the scenario above and wondering together about how UK community psychology might contribute more widely to this area.

Remember, please respond to the above scenario before the actual session whether or not you are able to attend it. Thank you.

Introducing our new lecturer, Dr Gamze Arman!

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By Gamze Arman

My name is Gamze Arman, and I have recently joined the UWE Department of Health and Social Sciences as a Lecturer in Occupational Psychology.

I received my undergraduate and master’s degrees from the most prestigious universities of Turkey (Bogazici University and Koc University, respectively) and my Ph.D. degree in Industrial/Organisational Psychology from DePaul University in Chicago – IL, USA. Prior to joining UWE, I worked as an assistant professor at MEF University (Turkey) for two years, with a joint appointment in the psychology and business administration departments.

At UWE, I will be primarily teaching at the masters’ program specialized in Occupational Psychology, and I will be involved in the modules such as training and development, and psychological assessment, in addition to the undergraduate module on research design and analysis.

My research is relevant to the “Optimising Performance and Engagement” theme of PSRG and focuses on two key areas: 1) diversity and interpersonal relationships in organizations as determinants of the task and 2) contextual performance in the work context. Within the broad scope of diversity, I am interested in gender and culture as the critical bases, and in my research so far, I have specifically focused on the following topics:

  • Career development of female employees (What is the role of senior female managers on career development of junior women? How does involvement in Women in Business student clubs impact the career perceptions of female university students?)
  • Expatriates and high skilled immigrants (How do host country nationals perceive and treat expatriates from different cultural backgrounds? What are the factors facilitating or hindering female expatriates’ career development in a given cultural context?)
  • Functioning of multinational teams (How does subgroup formation take place in teams consisting of members from several national backgrounds? How does it impact team functioning?)

Within the area of interpersonal relationships in organizations, I am primarily interested in:

  • Abusive supervision and the dark side of leadership (What is the role of third-party observers in abusive supervision cases? Which factors impact their perceptions and willingness to help the victims?)
  • Relational energy among employees (How do people in a work context impact each other’s mood and motivation?)

Although my priority is research, I am a proponent of the scientist-practitioner model of occupational psychology. In my experience as a practitioner, I worked for human resources departments of multinational companies such as Accenture, and I engaged in consulting projects in the USA and Turkey. I look for opportunities for collaboration with practitioners since I believe consulting and delivering training programs to professionals provide valuable inspiration for my research via the interaction with people working at different organizations.

The Power of Yoga: Using yoga to promote psychological and physical health

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By Emma Halliwell

I was 21, living in Brighton, studying and partying when went to my first yoga class. I was immediately hooked. I have been practicing yoga, with varying frequency, ever since. In those early days yoga helped me cope with the aftermath of late nights and exam stress. Over the subsequent two decades yoga has helped me cope with more serious health and emotional issues.  I can definitely attest to the ‘power of yoga’ in my own life.

Despite my long relationship with yoga, I’ve only begun to research yoga relatively recently. Fortunately, I have a brilliant yoga teacher, Sam Burkey, as a collaborator. She has a wealth of experience and expertise about the benefits of yoga. Together we take an evidence-based approach, integrating evidence from the academic literature, classic teachings and professional experience.

Yoga improves both physical and psychological health. It offers benefits for numerous health conditions including diabetes, cancer, anxiety and cardiovascular disease. Of course, beyond peer-reviewed research, there is also an extensive and rich literature on yoga. The seminal text, The Yoga-Sutra, was written two-thousand years ago (although references to yoga date back 5,000 years). Numerous texts have been published as guides to practice and as testament to the benefits of yoga. Based on these resources, we can draw some clear conclusions and also identify some significant challenges.

For many people yoga is a lifelong pursuit. The benefits of this sustained practice are well documented. These benefits also change and emerge in response to an individual’s own development. There is also evidence that relatively brief yoga courses improve health and wellbeing.

Currently, we are seeing an explosion in the types of yoga on offer, from the more traditional to the more bizarre. It is not clear whether positive impact of yoga extends to some of the more recent variants. Also, we are seeing the emergence of programs that seem to take yoga away from the basic philosophical routes of self-compassion and acceptance, e.g. “beach body yoga workout”.  These developments makes it more challenging to simply recommend yoga as a route to improve well-being.

Against this backdrop, our aim is to evaluate stand-alone yoga-based interventions that also provide a foundation for future practice that will support psychological and physical well-being. Specifically, we are developing brief yoga-based interventions that

  1. target and improve specific aspects of psychological and physical well-being and
  2. offer an informed entry route into yoga practice.

To date, we’ve delivered yoga interventions in schools and university. Our initial data indicates that our targeted yoga-based intervention approach is effective. For example, our yoga-based intervention led to sustained improvements in mood and body image among young women and 40% of them continuing yoga practice.

We have many other projects planned. Most imminently, with an extended cross-disciplinary project team, we are working on yoga programs for individuals who’ve experienced cancer.

So far, this research area has been extremely exciting and rewarding. The significant intervention effects are very promising. Of course, some of the most compelling evidence comes from qualitative feedback. In our most recent study, one participant reported…

“I have taken up yoga and want to do it forever”