School of Applied Social Science

Dr Zoe Boden

Podcast: Dr Zoe Boden

Psychology with Counselling Studies course leader and lecturer, Dr Zoe Boden, discusses relationships and mental health during COVID-19 in our latest podcast.

​Dr Boden also talks about her research, which currently focuses on mental health medication use.

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Hello, welcome to the University of Brighton podcast. I’m Richard Newman. My guest this week is Dr Zoe Bowden from the School of Applied Social Science. Zoe teaches on the psychology with counselling studies course and researches relationships and mental health. And as we all deal with lock down and the gradual easing of restrictions, we thought it would be a good idea to talk about relationships during the current situation. Hi, Zoe. How are you doing?

I’m good, thank you.

 

Thanks for coming on. Quite a lot to talk about. And before we really get going. Let’s get to know your background first. How have you arrived at this point?

 

I know quite a route. I suppose you could say, I started out my first degree in dance studies. I grew up wanting to be a dancer. Quite quickly realized that wasn’t going to work out. But I worked in the arts and industries for quite a while, working with some amazing dance companies, doing some company management and tour management and doing a lot of outreach and working with different groups. And around that time, I started to feel like, hey, maybe this isn’t quite what I had set up for my life. So I decided to do a psychology degree in the evenings and I was working full time in the in the dance industry and then in the evenings studying and from there I got the chance to do a, PHD and I sort of stepped into academia. And so then I finished my  PHD, worked a little bit in various universities in London and came to the University Brighton just last January.

 

So what drew you to psychology then? When you decided that working in the dance industry wasn’t for you. What drew you to psychology?

 

You know, it’s hard to pinpoint quite how I got there. I know that at the time I was kind of considering maybe doing Law. I’d had a friend who done Law and she seemed to that was interesting. I think I sort of was aware that I was very intrigued about how people live, how they make sense of their lives, how they can change through therapy. So I think in those early days, I thought I might want to become a clinical psychologist, which we find lots of our students do think that that’s what they want to do and start off with. I always I wanted to make a difference, as many people say. Yeah. And I thought, well, I’ll just do I’ll just do the first year. In those days, it didn’t cost nine thousand pounds. So I thought I can do the first year and see how it went. And I fell in love with it and continued.

 

So it’s a really popular course. Why do you think there is quite so much interest in it?

 

In psychology, yes, certainly increasingly popular, I’ve found, and I think it’s just. Well, there’s many different reasons. I think people are quite keen to understand themselves. So a lot of people come into psychology course is might come because they have their own experiences of difficulties, maybe with wellbeing or mental health or they’ve seen it within their family or kind of connected issues such as addiction. So often people come after personal experience. So I think we have that kind of impetus, I guess, to try and understand what makes people tick, how things turn out the way they do, and how to make changes, how to feel better about ourselves and our relationships in our lives.

 

And do you think people treat, though, a lot differently now compared to a number of years ago? Have you seen the way that mental health and wellbeing is perceived? You know, since you started specializing it’s a lot more at the front of people’s minds. Now people are looking after themselves and looking after others. A lot more than maybe they did like five, 10 years ago?

 

Sure. There’s definitely an increasing openness to talking around mental health, which is be a good thing, I think. I think there’s also something kind of broader about the kind of the imperatives in the society to kind of to remake ourselves or to become better citizens. I think it’s a broad kind of shift in in this sort of late 20th century and early 21st century to kind of making ourselves the best version of ourselves. And with that, I think, comes an interest in well-being in the broadest sense.

 

Let’s talk about coronavirus and relationships and mental health. And it’s been really hard for all of us not being able to see family, friends and partners who don’t live together. That must be incredibly difficult as well. And it will affect us in in different ways, won’t it?

 

Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s sort of a strong narrative in the media, which certainly may be true for many people that we’re all sort of keen to get to see our loved ones as soon as possible. Lockdown’s easing, but of course, people have unique circumstances and some people locked down may have actually provided a bit of reprieve or a bit respite from difficult relationships, maybe with family or perhaps just they might feel that relating in general is stressful. So for some people, actually living kind of less social engagements is is beneficial. But with others, there’s that real isolation that comes with being cut off from broader society and from different networks, which can be hugely beneficial.

 

We’ll focus on that, I think, in a bit about the other side to it from your research. I guess what are the main sort of long-term benefits of having strong relationships for that long-term mental health?

 

Yeah. So, we know from the research that relationships can provide a buffer so they can be a hugely important protective factor, supporting people to talk about, to cope with, to manage any sort of crisis that might come up. But also, it seems that people who have at least one kind of positive be kind of emotionally warm relationship that’s stable and constructive. A healthy relationship, if you like, will be less likely to develop more complex mental health problems or become suicidal. So we know that relationships are fundamentally in human well-being.

 

For some, lockdown would have been great for relationships, maybe family seeing each other a bit more when they were in jobs where they may. Maybe don’t see each other much at all. But for others, it can put a huge strain on relationships, not being able to get out the house, not being able to. Not having anywhere for themselves. It can be difficult.

 

And context is so important, isn’t it? I mean, a personal example, you know, I’m incredibly lucky. I have a space which I feel comfortable in. I can take a walk to the beach, which is amazing for lots of people who may have small children or be in a house without outside space. That’s going to put a huge burden on them, kind of practically. And then, of course, the relationships, it’s not kind of typical for us to spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a certain number of people. So this is bound to put a lot of strain on those relationships.

 

In your professional opinion in those situations. What can people do to cope with those? How can they create that space? How can they make sure that those relationships don’t get under strain or try and limit the damage of that?

 

Sure. Well, there’s a number of stresses. One thing I might suggest to my clients is to consider trying to negotiate kind of quiet spaces within the house or some kind of understanding about a particular time when you might need to be on your own. Obviously, that’s almost impossible if you have  young children, for many people kind of having those conversations about what they might need before it kind of reaches a crisis point or a crunch point is going to be beneficial because everyone needs to have some time alone, some quiet time if they can manage it.

 

And then coming back to what we’re saying just now, I mean, lockdown for some will be absolute hell. I mean, the worst the worst possible thing. We’ve seen increases in domestic violence cases, people losing their support networks as well, at least in person, it is trickier to do things online. This sort of secondary effects of this lockdown have been, you know, that’s something that really needs to be taken into account as well.

 

Absolutely. So, yeah, like you say, we know, as I have reported, for example, a lot of increase in calls to the crisis line or their Web site. So we know that for certain people, lockdowns in very difficult LGBTQ charities have talked about the difficulties of coming out during this period for young adults and just sort of the added strain and pressure, I suppose, in a context like lockdown of trying to negotiate your own identity without those typical support networks that you might have. So, OK, yes, we can get support online. And lots of charities have been doing amazing work, kind of reaching out to that client base and through video conferencing or telephone crisis lines. But I think most people would still feel quite cut off from kind of support networks. And obviously the people who might be fleeing and dangerous or abusive or unsafe situations and lockdowns being incredibly difficult made a whole lot harder.

 

How important is it for us all to pick up on the smallest cues, I guess then from colleagues, friends, family? When we’re talking to them, making sure and checking in with them really at these times, because, you know, I think a lot of the time people don’t maybe check in enough in when we can see each other in person. But you can pick up cues easier when you’re actually seeing them face to face. And that’s kind of a tricky situation that we’re all in at the moment, isn’t it? Not so much to intervene, but to offer help, I guess, or someone to talk to if if you feel like if a friend, family member might need a little bit of it?

 

Yeah. I suppose one of the more optimistic things to come out of lockdown has been that kind of mutual aid and that kind of a collaborative kind of approaches and this kind of community spirit, if you like. And I think we can all kind of benefit from doing a bit of that, thinking about. Yeah, being there for each other as much as we can. I mean, it’s difficult when people feel isolated. Often, they don’t reach out for help. So you’re right, it’s hard sometimes. Especially for those kids and loved ones.

 

We talk before recording this podcast as well, about one thing you brought up was the difference between loneliness and solitude. Can you explain what data seems to suggest? Who is most vulnerable in that context? And maybe how is it different to what we might think?

 

Yes. Well, there is two different points. So the first I think there’s the assumption that if somebody is alone, that they are going to be vulnerable to feeling lonely, they might be in need. So I suppose the first thing just to point out that solitude can be a really supportive thing. So there’s some research thinking about how taking time to kind of withdraw into oneself can be beneficial in terms of mental health recovery. So thinking about things like spirituality or getting to have a strong sense of yourself before kind of engaging with others so solitude can be a beneficial thing to do. Loneliness, though, you know, it’s been described as kind of like hunger. It is. It’s a painful, distressing experience. And often, I think, especially in the media, we think of loneliness as being something that afflicted older adults living alone. But actually, according to an eyewitness or an Office of National Statistics survey that was done in 2018, it was the younger adults, the 16 to 24-year olds who were reporting the most by loneliness. And that might be a group of people who typically we might expect to be kind of hanging out in large groups of friends and very socially networked online and in person. But it seems no, they are they’re experiencing a huge amount of loneliness and distress around them.

 

Why? Why would you think that might be?

 

Well, it’s unclear. Without kind of asking them about those experiences, which as far as I am aware that survey didn’t do. But my guess is that it sort of points to that thing, that loneliness isn’t about how many people you have around you, but rather your ability to connect. So connectedness, a sense of belonging, a sense of acceptance and all seemed important in thinking about how we kind of sit relation in our networks. It’s not just the number of people. And it would be easy to kind of point to, you know, the kind of Insta generation or online activity as being kind of the cause for this. And, you know, it may be a part have a part to play. It may not. But it seems that for young people’s they are not feeling as connected as we might imagine they are when we read the news.

 

When we will come out of this, whenever that is. We’ve all had to change the way that we live our lives. How do you think relationships will change? Will they change with the way that we interact with people change will our behaviours change. What do you think?

 

I can only speak kind of at a personal level, really. I suppose a few weeks back, even maybe even last week. You know, things seem to change that quickly. I might have said that it would be really weird to kind of see people together in a park. But this week, I see people together in the park and it seems fairly normal. So I’m kind of. Surprised both with how quickly we kind of adapted to being in lock down and how quickly people are transitioning out of that. So I think this is a pessimist view, but I’m guessing that we we might not kind of change as radically as those people might have thought.

 

I guess it depends on how much changes in the next few weeks and months, whether we have to go back to that. There’s certain things that we’ve had to deal with I guess. But you know, what you said about people would bring up a lot about how there’s this community spirit, which is, you know, we see a little bit more of it since we’ve been in this situation. So, you know, you might even just say hello. It’s someone that you walk past in the park or on the beach. And that is something you may not have haven’t seen a lot of in people. You don’t see a lot of it in this country very much unless you’re on a country walk or even just checking in on people in the streets to make sure the vulnerable people that need to have shopping delivered or medicine. Do you think we’re going to see a little bit more of that in terms of our relationships with within the community? I want to just draw on another bit that I remember is that I might go back. I think that the last time we had something like this in terms of a positive community spirit for me was in the London 2012 Olympics and everyone was talking about how people must be happy and talking to each other. And, you know, as soon as the Olympics and Paralympics went away, it was very quickly back to normal because we’re so desperate to get back to our previous lives. Is there a risk that we don’t learn from the good things that have come out of this?

 

I suppose it depends how kind of consolidated that is. And I think you’re right in thinking about, you know, how much longer this goes on for but we’re talking about kind of huge behaviour or changes that say, you know, I lived in London for 20 years and never talked to anyone ever in terms of neighbourhood people in my community. When I moved to Brighton, I had a little bit more of that and certainly locked down has increased that. So I do know more of my neighbours now. I do have more conversations with people, and I absolutely hope that that does continue. I think it just needs to be embedded. And in order for it to be taken place, say I be hopeful and optimistic about that.

 

And your main areas of research. Can you tell us about those? And maybe I don’t know even how retrospectively how the pandemic may have reshaped some of your views on your own work?

 

So my research focuses on relationships in the context of mental health. And typically, I’m looking at complex mental health needs. So people who are experiencing psychosis or suicidality. So psychosis, for example. We’re talking about people who are in kind of extreme distress who perhaps are seeing or hearing things that others aren’t or holding beliefs that others aren’t. And I’m interested to understand their relational networks. So I do research both from the perspective of the person with the lived experience of distress and also kind of who we call the informal carer. So the loved one, the sibling, the parent, the partner. And I understand that perspective as well. So my current research is actually around mental health medication use and how relationships impact on that and vice versa. And I was halfway through that project when lock-down started. And certainly, the situation has disrupted my plans a little bit. I’m not sure if I have enough distance yet to know whether this period is going to change my views on how we relate to them. I think it’s very early to tell. And of course, lots of people are doing research projects right now about coronavirus and its impact on social isolation and so on. Yeah. It’s early days to know what influence that’s going to have, I think.

 

Is it a stereotype to assume in this country that there’s less of a dependence on mental health medication than other nations where, say, USA, where we see a lot of it?

 

What I can say is that evidence shows that prescriptions for mental health medications are increasing, especially antidepressants are increasing greatly. But it’s an interesting choice of words to think about dependency. So a lot of the people that I’m talking to in this study are talking about choices. So whether to choose to take a medication in spite of sometimes really difficult side effects, because the quality of life would be better if they do take it and having good relationships. In this case, it was a romantic relationship. So having partners available and willing to kind of talk through those decisions seem to be fundamental for people.

 

It’s really interesting. It will be good to see what comes out of that as well when we finally do get to get back round to that project? We end every podcast with some questions away from your work. So let’s just fire away with those. The first one would be what advice would you give to your younger self?

 

I try to look back at my younger self with as much compassion as possible. So my advice would just be everything’s going to be fine. You know, just carry on as you are, you are OK.

 

If you could pick any other subjects to study at the University of Brighton, what might it be?

 

Yes, I got quite excited thinking about all the different subjects that are available to me at Brighton. But I narrow it down, I think, to something in the school of art. A fashion design, maybe photography. Yeah, something creative.

 

Cool. What positive changes have you experienced from life in lockdown for you?

 

I’ve really noticed that I can be really happy with much less than I thought I needed less in terms of kind of stimulus activities and also a kind of less intensive consumerism as well. So, yeah, I can survive on less and be pretty happy.

 

Do you think you will carry that forward as well?

 

I will try!

 

You’ve been here that long. But can you pick a favourite place in Sussex?

 

Yeah, no, I really haven’t had much chance checks floor. I mean, I’ve done a little bit around the downs and along the coast, but I can’t say it’s a favourite place, but it’s a place that I do want to visit. I started to realize how many vineyards there were around the local area. Definitely looking forward to that.

 

Yeah, it sounds good – when lockdown is lifted what tips would you give visitors to Brighton and the area for what to do?

 

Yes, I imagine lots of people say this, but I think the restaurants, the bars and the cafes in Brighton are amazing. I had this mistaken idea that when I came down from London, I would miss a lot of kind of London life might be on the train up there all the time. But no I love Brighton. I would just add a little extra tip. I’m really loving the feminist book shop on Upper North Street, which is tiny but has great events and lovely little vegan cafe as well. Nice working space in the basement.

 

I hear you have been working with Brighton CCA as well. So put some links as well in the podcast. Tell us something interesting about you. That’s a lot. People may not know?

 

Ok, so I don’t know if this is very interesting, but as a child, I really wants to be a weather presenter like ambition.

 

How long for?

 

I think I held the idea for quite a while. And I think I was primarily drawn to it because I’d seen a kind of kids documentary about being weather presenter. And they had to kind of set their own camera and do their piece to camera and everything. And I think actually I was kind of intrigued by the kind of the media and the kind of theatre of kind of performance aspects of it.

 

Nice. If you could pick three people to heist at a dinner party. Who would they be and why?

 

I think I would change my mind on any given day of the week for this, but I’m going to go with Eimear McBride, who is a novelist. Who Just I think writes brilliantly about really brutal, difficult things incredibly beautifully? So she’d be my number one. And the second one is Virginia Axline who actually died in 1988. So this is my ideal dinner party. She is one of the pioneers of play therapy. And actually, in answer to your very early question, I read her book, when I was probably about 17, which is a case study of a child going through a series of play therapy sessions. And I think that was probably quite instrumental in getting interested in therapy. And then my final choice is going to be Nan Golding, the photographer, because I just I love her work. I love the idea that she was given a camera when she was 15 and she just started taking photos. So I think these three people together would have a lot to say about creativity and power and Gender and kind of that notion of becoming and how to deal with trauma as well.

 

Sounds good. Thanks so much for coming on, Zoe. That’s it for this week’s podcast. But if you’d like to subscribe or listen see previous episodes, please do via Apple Podcasts, Spotify or YouTube. Thanks for listening.

 

 

I’m good, thank you.

 

Thanks for coming on. Quite a lot to talk about. And before we really get going. Let’s get to know your background first. How have you arrived at this point?

 

I know quite a route. I suppose you could say, I started out my first degree in dance studies. I grew up wanting to be a dancer. Quite quickly realized that wasn’t going to work out. But I worked in the arts and industries for quite a while, working with some amazing dance companies, doing some company management and tour management and doing a lot of outreach and working with different groups. And around that time, I started to feel like, hey, maybe this isn’t quite what I had set up for my life. So I decided to do a psychology degree in the evenings and I was working full time in the in the dance industry and then in the evenings studying and from there I got the chance to do a, PHD and I sort of stepped into academia. And so then I finished my  PHD, worked a little bit in various universities in London and came to the University Brighton just last January.

 

So what drew you to psychology then? When you decided that working in the dance industry wasn’t for you. What drew you to psychology?

 

You know, it’s hard to pinpoint quite how I got there. I know that at the time I was kind of considering maybe doing Law. I’d had a friend who done Law and she seemed to that was interesting. I think I sort of was aware that I was very intrigued about how people live, how they make sense of their lives, how they can change through therapy. So I think in those early days, I thought I might want to become a clinical psychologist, which we find lots of our students do think that that’s what they want to do and start off with. I always I wanted to make a difference, as many people say. Yeah. And I thought, well, I’ll just do I’ll just do the first year. In those days, it didn’t cost nine thousand pounds. So I thought I can do the first year and see how it went. And I fell in love with it and continued.

 

So it’s a really popular course. Why do you think there is quite so much interest in it?

 

In psychology, yes, certainly increasingly popular, I’ve found, and I think it’s just. Well, there’s many different reasons. I think people are quite keen to understand themselves. So a lot of people come into psychology course is might come because they have their own experiences of difficulties, maybe with wellbeing or mental health or they’ve seen it within their family or kind of connected issues such as addiction. So often people come after personal experience. So I think we have that kind of impetus, I guess, to try and understand what makes people tick, how things turn out the way they do, and how to make changes, how to feel better about ourselves and our relationships in our lives.

 

And do you think people treat, though, a lot differently now compared to a number of years ago? Have you seen the way that mental health and wellbeing is perceived? You know, since you started specializing it’s a lot more at the front of people’s minds. Now people are looking after themselves and looking after others. A lot more than maybe they did like five, 10 years ago?

 

Sure. There’s definitely an increasing openness to talking around mental health, which is be a good thing, I think. I think there’s also something kind of broader about the kind of the imperatives in the society to kind of to remake ourselves or to become better citizens. I think it’s a broad kind of shift in in this sort of late 20th century and early 21st century to kind of making ourselves the best version of ourselves. And with that, I think, comes an interest in well-being in the broadest sense.

 

Let’s talk about coronavirus and relationships and mental health. And it’s been really hard for all of us not being able to see family, friends and partners who don’t live together. That must be incredibly difficult as well. And it will affect us in in different ways, won’t it?

 

Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s sort of a strong narrative in the media, which certainly may be true for many people that we’re all sort of keen to get to see our loved ones as soon as possible. Lockdown’s easing, but of course, people have unique circumstances and some people locked down may have actually provided a bit of reprieve or a bit respite from difficult relationships, maybe with family or perhaps just they might feel that relating in general is stressful. So for some people, actually living kind of less social engagements is is beneficial. But with others, there’s that real isolation that comes with being cut off from broader society and from different networks, which can be hugely beneficial.

 

We’ll focus on that, I think, in a bit about the other side to it from your research. I guess what are the main sort of long-term benefits of having strong relationships for that long-term mental health?

 

Yeah. So, we know from the research that relationships can provide a buffer so they can be a hugely important protective factor, supporting people to talk about, to cope with, to manage any sort of crisis that might come up. But also, it seems that people who have at least one kind of positive be kind of emotionally warm relationship that’s stable and constructive. A healthy relationship, if you like, will be less likely to develop more complex mental health problems or become suicidal. So we know that relationships are fundamentally in human well-being.

 

For some, lockdown would have been great for relationships, maybe family seeing each other a bit more when they were in jobs where they may. Maybe don’t see each other much at all. But for others, it can put a huge strain on relationships, not being able to get out the house, not being able to. Not having anywhere for themselves. It can be difficult.

 

And context is so important, isn’t it? I mean, a personal example, you know, I’m incredibly lucky. I have a space which I feel comfortable in. I can take a walk to the beach, which is amazing for lots of people who may have small children or be in a house without outside space. That’s going to put a huge burden on them, kind of practically. And then, of course, the relationships, it’s not kind of typical for us to spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a certain number of people. So this is bound to put a lot of strain on those relationships.

 

In your professional opinion in those situations. What can people do to cope with those? How can they create that space? How can they make sure that those relationships don’t get under strain or try and limit the damage of that?

 

Sure. Well, there’s a number of stresses. One thing I might suggest to my clients is to consider trying to negotiate kind of quiet spaces within the house or some kind of understanding about a particular time when you might need to be on your own. Obviously, that’s almost impossible if you have  young children, for many people kind of having those conversations about what they might need before it kind of reaches a crisis point or a crunch point is going to be beneficial because everyone needs to have some time alone, some quiet time if they can manage it.

 

And then coming back to what we’re saying just now, I mean, lockdown for some will be absolute hell. I mean, the worst the worst possible thing. We’ve seen increases in domestic violence cases, people losing their support networks as well, at least in person, it is trickier to do things online. This sort of secondary effects of this lockdown have been, you know, that’s something that really needs to be taken into account as well.

 

Absolutely. So, yeah, like you say, we know, as I have reported, for example, a lot of increase in calls to the crisis line or their Web site. So we know that for certain people, lockdowns in very difficult LGBTQ charities have talked about the difficulties of coming out during this period for young adults and just sort of the added strain and pressure, I suppose, in a context like lockdown of trying to negotiate your own identity without those typical support networks that you might have. So, OK, yes, we can get support online. And lots of charities have been doing amazing work, kind of reaching out to that client base and through video conferencing or telephone crisis lines. But I think most people would still feel quite cut off from kind of support networks. And obviously the people who might be fleeing and dangerous or abusive or unsafe situations and lockdowns being incredibly difficult made a whole lot harder.

 

How important is it for us all to pick up on the smallest cues, I guess then from colleagues, friends, family? When we’re talking to them, making sure and checking in with them really at these times, because, you know, I think a lot of the time people don’t maybe check in enough in when we can see each other in person. But you can pick up cues easier when you’re actually seeing them face to face. And that’s kind of a tricky situation that we’re all in at the moment, isn’t it? Not so much to intervene, but to offer help, I guess, or someone to talk to if if you feel like if a friend, family member might need a little bit of it?

 

Yeah. I suppose one of the more optimistic things to come out of lockdown has been that kind of mutual aid and that kind of a collaborative kind of approaches and this kind of community spirit, if you like. And I think we can all kind of benefit from doing a bit of that, thinking about. Yeah, being there for each other as much as we can. I mean, it’s difficult when people feel isolated. Often, they don’t reach out for help. So you’re right, it’s hard sometimes. Especially for those kids and loved ones.

 

We talk before recording this podcast as well, about one thing you brought up was the difference between loneliness and solitude. Can you explain what data seems to suggest? Who is most vulnerable in that context? And maybe how is it different to what we might think?

 

Yes. Well, there is two different points. So the first I think there’s the assumption that if somebody is alone, that they are going to be vulnerable to feeling lonely, they might be in need. So I suppose the first thing just to point out that solitude can be a really supportive thing. So there’s some research thinking about how taking time to kind of withdraw into oneself can be beneficial in terms of mental health recovery. So thinking about things like spirituality or getting to have a strong sense of yourself before kind of engaging with others so solitude can be a beneficial thing to do. Loneliness, though, you know, it’s been described as kind of like hunger. It is. It’s a painful, distressing experience. And often, I think, especially in the media, we think of loneliness as being something that afflicted older adults living alone. But actually, according to an eyewitness or an Office of National Statistics survey that was done in 2018, it was the younger adults, the 16 to 24-year olds who were reporting the most by loneliness. And that might be a group of people who typically we might expect to be kind of hanging out in large groups of friends and very socially networked online and in person. But it seems no, they are they’re experiencing a huge amount of loneliness and distress around them.

 

Why? Why would you think that might be?

 

Well, it’s unclear. Without kind of asking them about those experiences, which as far as I am aware that survey didn’t do. But my guess is that it sort of points to that thing, that loneliness isn’t about how many people you have around you, but rather your ability to connect. So connectedness, a sense of belonging, a sense of acceptance and all seemed important in thinking about how we kind of sit relation in our networks. It’s not just the number of people. And it would be easy to kind of point to, you know, the kind of Insta generation or online activity as being kind of the cause for this. And, you know, it may be a part have a part to play. It may not. But it seems that for young people’s they are not feeling as connected as we might imagine they are when we read the news.

 

When we will come out of this, whenever that is. We’ve all had to change the way that we live our lives. How do you think relationships will change? Will they change with the way that we interact with people change will our behaviours change. What do you think?

 

I can only speak kind of at a personal level, really. I suppose a few weeks back, even maybe even last week. You know, things seem to change that quickly. I might have said that it would be really weird to kind of see people together in a park. But this week, I see people together in the park and it seems fairly normal. So I’m kind of. Surprised both with how quickly we kind of adapted to being in lock down and how quickly people are transitioning out of that. So I think this is a pessimist view, but I’m guessing that we we might not kind of change as radically as those people might have thought.

 

I guess it depends on how much changes in the next few weeks and months, whether we have to go back to that. There’s certain things that we’ve had to deal with I guess. But you know, what you said about people would bring up a lot about how there’s this community spirit, which is, you know, we see a little bit more of it since we’ve been in this situation. So, you know, you might even just say hello. It’s someone that you walk past in the park or on the beach. And that is something you may not have haven’t seen a lot of in people. You don’t see a lot of it in this country very much unless you’re on a country walk or even just checking in on people in the streets to make sure the vulnerable people that need to have shopping delivered or medicine. Do you think we’re going to see a little bit more of that in terms of our relationships with within the community? I want to just draw on another bit that I remember is that I might go back. I think that the last time we had something like this in terms of a positive community spirit for me was in the London 2012 Olympics and everyone was talking about how people must be happy and talking to each other. And, you know, as soon as the Olympics and Paralympics went away, it was very quickly back to normal because we’re so desperate to get back to our previous lives. Is there a risk that we don’t learn from the good things that have come out of this?

 

I suppose it depends how kind of consolidated that is. And I think you’re right in thinking about, you know, how much longer this goes on for but we’re talking about kind of huge behaviour or changes that say, you know, I lived in London for 20 years and never talked to anyone ever in terms of neighbourhood people in my community. When I moved to Brighton, I had a little bit more of that and certainly locked down has increased that. So I do know more of my neighbours now. I do have more conversations with people, and I absolutely hope that that does continue. I think it just needs to be embedded. And in order for it to be taken place, say I be hopeful and optimistic about that.

 

And your main areas of research. Can you tell us about those? And maybe I don’t know even how retrospectively how the pandemic may have reshaped some of your views on your own work?

 

So my research focuses on relationships in the context of mental health. And typically, I’m looking at complex mental health needs. So people who are experiencing psychosis or suicidality. So psychosis, for example. We’re talking about people who are in kind of extreme distress who perhaps are seeing or hearing things that others aren’t or holding beliefs that others aren’t. And I’m interested to understand their relational networks. So I do research both from the perspective of the person with the lived experience of distress and also kind of who we call the informal carer. So the loved one, the sibling, the parent, the partner. And I understand that perspective as well. So my current research is actually around mental health medication use and how relationships impact on that and vice versa. And I was halfway through that project when lock-down started. And certainly, the situation has disrupted my plans a little bit. I’m not sure if I have enough distance yet to know whether this period is going to change my views on how we relate to them. I think it’s very early to tell. And of course, lots of people are doing research projects right now about coronavirus and its impact on social isolation and so on. Yeah. It’s early days to know what influence that’s going to have, I think.

 

Is it a stereotype to assume in this country that there’s less of a dependence on mental health medication than other nations where, say, USA, where we see a lot of it?

 

What I can say is that evidence shows that prescriptions for mental health medications are increasing, especially antidepressants are increasing greatly. But it’s an interesting choice of words to think about dependency. So a lot of the people that I’m talking to in this study are talking about choices. So whether to choose to take a medication in spite of sometimes really difficult side effects, because the quality of life would be better if they do take it and having good relationships. In this case, it was a romantic relationship. So having partners available and willing to kind of talk through those decisions seem to be fundamental for people.

 

It’s really interesting. It will be good to see what comes out of that as well when we finally do get to get back round to that project? We end every podcast with some questions away from your work. So let’s just fire away with those. The first one would be what advice would you give to your younger self?

 

I try to look back at my younger self with as much compassion as possible. So my advice would just be everything’s going to be fine. You know, just carry on as you are, you are OK.

 

If you could pick any other subjects to study at the University of Brighton, what might it be?

 

Yes, I got quite excited thinking about all the different subjects that are available to me at Brighton. But I narrow it down, I think, to something in the school of art. A fashion design, maybe photography. Yeah, something creative.

 

Cool. What positive changes have you experienced from life in lockdown for you?

 

I’ve really noticed that I can be really happy with much less than I thought I needed less in terms of kind of stimulus activities and also a kind of less intensive consumerism as well. So, yeah, I can survive on less and be pretty happy.

 

Do you think you will carry that forward as well?

 

I will try!

 

You’ve been here that long. But can you pick a favourite place in Sussex?

 

Yeah, no, I really haven’t had much chance checks floor. I mean, I’ve done a little bit around the downs and along the coast, but I can’t say it’s a favourite place, but it’s a place that I do want to visit. I started to realize how many vineyards there were around the local area. Definitely looking forward to that.

 

Yeah, it sounds good – when lockdown is lifted what tips would you give visitors to Brighton and the area for what to do?

 

Yes, I imagine lots of people say this, but I think the restaurants, the bars and the cafes in Brighton are amazing. I had this mistaken idea that when I came down from London, I would miss a lot of kind of London life might be on the train up there all the time. But no I love Brighton. I would just add a little extra tip. I’m really loving the feminist book shop on Upper North Street, which is tiny but has great events and lovely little vegan cafe as well. Nice working space in the basement.

 

I hear you have been working with Brighton CCA as well. So put some links as well in the podcast. Tell us something interesting about you. That’s a lot. People may not know?

 

Ok, so I don’t know if this is very interesting, but as a child, I really wants to be a weather presenter like ambition.

 

How long for?

 

I think I held the idea for quite a while. And I think I was primarily drawn to it because I’d seen a kind of kids documentary about being weather presenter. And they had to kind of set their own camera and do their piece to camera and everything. And I think actually I was kind of intrigued by the kind of the media and the kind of theatre of kind of performance aspects of it.

 

Nice. If you could pick three people to heist at a dinner party. Who would they be and why?

 

I think I would change my mind on any given day of the week for this, but I’m going to go with Eimear McBride, who is a novelist. Who Just I think writes brilliantly about really brutal, difficult things incredibly beautifully? So she’d be my number one. And the second one is Virginia Axline who actually died in 1988. So this is my ideal dinner party. She is one of the pioneers of play therapy. And actually, in answer to your very early question, I read her book, when I was probably about 17, which is a case study of a child going through a series of play therapy sessions. And I think that was probably quite instrumental in getting interested in therapy. And then my final choice is going to be Nan Golding, the photographer, because I just I love her work. I love the idea that she was given a camera when she was 15 and she just started taking photos. So I think these three people together would have a lot to say about creativity and power and Gender and kind of that notion of becoming and how to deal with trauma as well.

 

Sounds good. Thanks so much for coming on, Zoe. That’s it for this week’s podcast. But if you’d like to subscribe or listen see previous episodes, please do via Apple Podcasts, Spotify or YouTube. Thanks for listening.

Kerry Burnett • June 22, 2020


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