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From helping new life into the world to understanding the struggle to stay alive

Updated: Oct 16, 2021

This week’s blog post is from Kerry Hozhabrafkan who started her PhD a year ago. Kerry discovered an interest in mental health and research while working as a midwife. Kerry holds the Mark Robinson MRCVS PhD Scholarship 2020 and is carrying out her PhD project

Developing participant-informed methods for acceptable and safe research into suicidal experiences at Manchester University.

From helping new life into the world to understanding the struggle to stay alive

As I approach the end of the first year of studying for a PhD, I have taken time to reflect on my current position and the path I have taken to get here.

For me, the best part of being a midwife was the privilege of getting to know women during such an important period in their lives. I loved talking with them, attempting to understand their unique circumstances, their journey and how I as a healthcare professional could meet their needs by advocating, listening and supporting. This was primarily what underpinned my later decision to move into a health visiting role. I was drawn by the opportunity to forge deeper connections with families, support those who may be struggling and to promote health. Through this work, I came to understand more about the complex set of factors that influence physical and mental health in the perinatal period. Like many who work in health and social care, I was often left feeling frustrated and helpless in the face of the stark health inequalities that exist.

Throughout my training and clinical work, I discovered a love of research and a desire to learn about mental health. I completed an MSc conversion degree in psychology and following this, was over the moon to be awarded this MHRUK scholarship to complete a PhD at the University of Manchester. The project, which is looking at suicide-focused research from the perspectives of participants, was a completely new area of study to me. However, I have been able to draw on my experience and interest in maternal mental health and apply this to research focused on suicide.

Sadly, suicide is a leading cause of death in the perinatal period. Yet I have found that surprisingly there is very little research conducted directly with women on this phenomenon. This has motivated me to want to investigate how researchers (and clinicians) can best discuss suicidal experiences with women at this time in their lives. I aim to gather the views of both women and healthcare professionals. My hope is that by examining the acceptability and relevance of suicide questionnaires and the experience of participation with women, we can inform the use of ethical research methods in this population. I am in awe of the amazing work that is being done every day to raise awareness and to campaign for improvements in maternal mental health support and in suicide prevention. Research is vital to all of this and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be on this journey towards doing my bit!

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