Category Archives: Mental Health

Ensuring those with mental health conditions in our community are supported with their condition while continuing to be treated fairly, equally and without stigma.

Carer’s Week 7-13 June 2021: Make Caring Visible and Valued

Do you provide unpaid care and support to a family member or friend who has a disability, illness, mental health condition or requires extra help as they age? Many of our colleagues are performing this role and don’t realise that they are a carer. One of the missions of NUCarer’s network is to help carer’s identify themselves as a carer, acknowledge their role and get the support they are entitled to.

What defines unpaid care? This can be something as simple as doing a weekly shop for a person or taking someone to visit relatives. Conversely, it can be a complex role of administering medication, providing transport to hospital appointments or providing personal care. The range of activities which defines a carer is vast. If you think you might be a carer but are not sure, use this simple checklist of daily or routine tasks to determine whether or not you are.

Introducing NUCarer’s Network Representative for FMS: Dr Kelly Coffey

The theme for #CarersWeek2021 is “Make caring visible and valued” and is the perfect time to introduce myself as the FMS representative for the NUCarer’s Network. I work within NUTCRI as a tenured research fellow and have been an unpaid carer for around 20 years and a mum for 5 years. Like many people, I didn’t realise that I was a carer for many years. Indeed, it is often when caring responsibilities become overwhelming that a person finally realises that they perform a caring role.

My caring journey began with my Gran, simply taking her for her weekly grocery shopping. It was actually something I looked forward to doing and never once thought of it as a caring role. Subsequently, I then became a carer for both my parents.

My caring role was negligible to begin with. During my PhD I found that I was having to deal with more of their financial matters as the internet became more established. My father was a miner for all his working life until he retired due to colliery closures. My mum was a homemaker for all of her married life as was the tradition in Northumberland. Neither one knew how to turn a computer on never mind navigate the internet!

Meanwhile, in my working life I was doing OK. I got my PhD, I did a couple of post-docs, published my research, helped write grants that were funded and then to my amazement I got an external fellowship to start my own research group from Prostate Cancer UK. I had done it, against the odds (a miner’s daughter from one of the most deprived areas in the UK) – or was it luck? Yes, imposter syndrome – lovely to meet you! A couple of years into my fellowship I welcomed my son, Matthew, into the world and life would change forever. It was at this time that my caring role started to evolve ever bigger into a perfect storm that would rage for 5 years with a grand finale of Covid-19.

The hard manual labour that Dad endured for well over 30 years took its toll on his body. During that time dad had a pacemaker fitted, a new hip fitted, skin cancer removed, to name but a few issues. Mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the same time which progressed very quickly and I developed gall bladder disease all whilst getting used to motherhood and being a new group leader. It became commonplace that I would be called out at 2am to deal with a fall or hospital admission and then go to work with no sleep at all. To this day I don’t know how I did it. But it was becoming apparent to others that I was killing myself and needed help and this would come from an unexpected place – a progress review interview for my fellowship. That was the first time I “confessed” everything in the work environment in its raw and unedited form and it was the best thing I ever did.

Since then, a lot has changed. I joined NUCarer’s and discovered there were so many others in my position or had done it all. I got practical advice from the experience of others and much needed peer support. I know I have the Employee Assistance Programme should I ever need to call upon it.

Sadly, in May, one week before her 80th birthday, mum passed away holding the hand of a stranger, to whom I will be forever grateful. On New Years Day 2021, I sat with my dad as he took his last breath. Neither caught Covid, which I consider a minor victory in all this. So, for now, my caring journey is over and a journey of healing has started.

I feel very passionate about helping colleagues to acknowledge that they are carers and to be proud of what they do. Passing on our knowledge to other carer’s once our journey is over is so important which is what makes NUCarer’s such an important resource. I can’t recommend this network enough.

For more information about NUCarer’s, events during Carer’s Week 2021 and how to join can be found within the latest NUConnections article.

Staying Well During Significant Change with Dr. Ben Marram: Webinar Catch Up

In honour of World Mental Health Day 2020, last month, Dr Ben Marram, Highly Specialised Clinical Psychologist at the Newcastle Mitochondrial Service, gave a wonderful talk on maintaining resilience during significant periods of change. This is a brief wrap up of the talk if you missed it; since it contained some very prevalent and poignant advice for the current global situation. At the end is a link to the video recording of the talk so you can experience it yourself – which we highly recommend!

Staying Well During Significant Change – Recap

The talk took place largely because in 2020, World Mental Health day coincided with the eighth month of lockdown regulations across the country. Times like these where the world seems upside down are challenging for the mental health of individuals and teams alike. Dr Ben Marram was kind enough to give us his insight into psychological fortitude during unprecedented, and often scary, change. Here are the five takeaways from his talk:

1. What is resilience?

Dr Marram discussed resilience and whether it can be truly defined. The most important take on resilience, however, was that during difficult times, your mental health does not suffer simply because you are not resilient enough. Resilience is ever-changing and highly malleable, and it is normal for its capacity to feel run down during a global pandemic! So don’t put yourself down for feeling low or off balance – resilience falters naturally from time to time.

2. Impact of COVID: Uncertainty Distress

This pandemic causes huge amounts of uncertainty distress: the negative emotions experienced in response to as-yet unknown aspects of a given situation. COVID-19 breeds this; bringing not just a threat to our health, but ever-changing rules and lack of clarity. In response to this, Ben suggests you try and reduce the number of lifestyle changes happening at one time, if you can, so you aren’t undergoing any massive shifts. Take it one step at a time, and do your best to find time to do things that bring you calm.

3. Psychological Safety in Teams

Dr Marram gave examples of how to encourage psychological safety in our professional and personal lives. For example, admitting to colleagues if you’re feeling nervous, afraid, or struggling to adapt because of COVID: your team can become a stronger & safer psychological space for all as a result. Communication is key to getting through periods of psychological and societal turbulence!

4. Tips for Psychological Flexibility

Finally, the importance of psychological flexibility was discussed: a matter of contacting the present moment; as well as keeping in touch with things and values important to you during periods of stress. He recommends any form of mindfulness (scripted or practical), grounding yourself through your five senses, and really doing your best to reinforce psychological safety.

So there you have it: a run-down of advice on emotional resilience during uncertain and stressful times. We do really recommend you watch the whole thing – Dr Marram’s insight is poignant, and extremely helpful to all of us as we head into a global lockdown. Check it out in the video below. And once again, thank you to Ben for taking the time to talk to & encourage us through this period of uncertainty!

To watch or download the video recording of the event, click here!


It’s back – FMS is holding its second Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Week, and we hope to see you there!

After last year’s success including the celebration of our Athena SWAN Silver Award, we are holding the Faculty’s second EDI Week for staff and students! We have a range of events lined up and listed below so that you can hear about the progress and ongoing work around EDI, and learn more about current issues that might be relevant to you.

Don’t miss out – take a look at what we’ve got lined up and book yourself in! We hope to see you at one of our events!


Monday 24th February:

  • The EDI Strategy & Our Day-to-day Roles – 10-11.30am, FMS Boardroom
    To launch the week we’ll be hearing from a number of panellists within the Faculty and beyond, talking about how they would like to interpret and translate our EDI strategy in their day-to-day roles. Read more and register.
  • Multicultural Event – 12:30-2pm, David Shaw Foyer
    Organised by the Dental School, this event aims to celebrate our staff/student community by sharing presentations about the various cultures, faiths, traditions and foods within FMS. All are welcome to attend!

Tuesday 25th February:

  • Imposter Syndrome with Rachel Tobbell – 12-2pm, Leech L2.4
    This interactive workshop will explore the experiences of ‘Imposter Syndrome’: how it affects us, how societal pressures can exacerbate the problem, how such internal doubts impact on our lives and what we can do to manage those feelings. Read more and register.

Wednesday 26th February:

  • LGBT Lives – 12-2pm, Ridley Building 2, Room 1.58
    As part of celebrations for LGBTQ+ History month as well as EDI Week, come along and listen to a panel discussion with members of the Rainbow LGBTQ+ staff network as they delve into the day-to-day experiences of working and being LGBTQ+ at Newcastle and in HE. Read more and register.

Thursday 27th February:

  • Breakfast with Athene Donald – 9.30-10.30am, FMS Boardroom
    Join the Master of Churchill College at the University of Cambridge, Athene Donald for this session, aimed primarily at ECRs and Fellows, in which you can discuss reconciling the risks of a contract-based research career with a long term vision of making a difference in academia. Breakfast included! Read more and register here.
  • Plenary with Athene Donald: The Art of Survival – 12.30-2.00pm, David Shaw Lecture Theatre
    As a longstanding champion of women in academia, Athene Donald will talk about her experiences and strategies developed during her career to help her succeed, and the value of passing on such knowledge to help others survive within institutions. Read more and register here.

Friday 28th February:

  • Personal Resilience: A taster session, with Lisa Rippingale – 12-2pm, Leech L2.4
    This workshop aims to provide participants with a range of tools and techniques to develop their personal resilience. Read more and register here.

Demystifying Leadership: Head of the School of Psychology (Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon)

As part of our Demystifying Leadership blog series, we’ve chatted to staff in a variety of leadership positions across the Faculty. To help you find out more about what a Head of School role might be like, I spoke to Professor Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon about her job as Head of the School of Psychology in FMS.

What are your main responsibilities in your role?

I lead and manage the School of Psychology. My role is quite diverse, but it primarily focuses on the learning and teaching experience. I work with approximately 35 academic members of staff (whom I manage directly) and about 11 or 12 admin staff to run and deliver a number of Undergraduate, Postgraduate Taught and Professional Training programmes under the School of Psychology.

What does an average day look like for you?

I don’t think there is an average day, to be quite honest. The largest amount of my time is spent strategically, making sure our School’s teaching plan is on track, and working with external organisations to ensure we have the right partnerships in place and that we’re developing new professional placements for students.

Another important part of my role is the leadership and mentoring of staff (academics, in particular). I review their personal development and manage any day-to-day issues, as well as the relationships between them. Due to the School’s recent growth in student numbers, I’m also often shortlisting or interviewing new academics to teach.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I particularly enjoy the mentoring of staff. Since beginning working with them, I’ve seen a number of them be very successful and receive promotions on the basis of learning and teaching. This makes me particularly happy, as it shows the University values the learning and teaching advancement process.

Additionally, as I know my staff very well, I’m able to look strategically at the School to find projects that would be well-suited to the skill set of a certain staff member. So, to then see them flourish in that project makes me very happy.

What made you want to apply for the role?

At the time, I was an associate Dean for Research at Faculty-level in another institution, where I managed research across a diverse range of disciplines. I had been looking to get back into my own discipline again, so this leadership role was perfect, and I’ve really enjoyed being back in Psychology. I also knew the University wanted this School to grow, so I was excited that there was real opportunity to make a lot of big changes.

What do you think is your biggest achievement so far in your role?

As a result of our growth as a School, the University has invested in a state-of-the-art learning and teaching space within a new building. It will include specialised teaching spaces, such as a forensic laboratory and a psychological therapies clinic. It will be a fantastic environment for all our students and staff.

I feel these new resources are a symbol of our recent success and the University’s belief and trust in me.

What learning opportunities have been available to you in your role?

In much of my career previous to this role, I’ve had to learn on the job, through trial and error, which has been a massive challenge. But within this role, I have done a senior leadership course, which was quite useful, and also a mentoring course, where I did learn a lot, even about myself.

Have you been supported by colleagues, mentors or training opportunities?

I feel extremely supported by the University and the Faculty, and there are some very approachable people with real integrity here. The PVC has been very willing to listen and develop strategic plans. I couldn’t have grown the School to in such a way had the University not resourced more academic posts and invested in a new building for us. This makes me feel as though I’ve been listened to and I’ve been trusted to drive this growth.

The previous Undergraduate Dean (Jane Calvert) has also been fantastic and she was my go-to person when I needed a sounding board. The Heads of other Units also provide peer support and we regularly talk and share advice. Finally, I get a lot of day-to-day support from my colleagues in my school, with whom I have very good relationships and are always there to help with whatever I need.

What has your role taught you about yourself?

My current role has taught me how good I am with people. In my previous job, I was trying to manage 400 people and was never able to get to know them as individuals. So, at Newcastle, I’ve had the chance to realise that I work very well with individuals when I can get to know them, and that I am able to bring out the best in people.

However, management also often involves some very difficult conversations, and I’ve learnt that I can handle this. I’ve become good at knowing exactly when you must put your own emotions aside and how to always maintain my objectivity in tricky situations.

What have you found more challenging in your role?

The diversity of things I have to deal with on a daily basis. We’re a complicated School with 8 Undergraduate programmes (previously we had just 1, when I started). Several of our Postgraduate programmes also involve quite complicated relationships with external organisations such as the NHS, so dealing with the changes in these organisations can be very tricky.

How do you balance the role with your research and/or external commitments (families, hobbies etc.)?

I’m not doing very much research now. I do some through PhD students, but this is importantly their research and not mine. However, I was aware of this when I took the role; it was a very deliberate move for me and I felt it was right for this stage in my career. I do also still do some teaching. In the autumn semester I teach on some of the Masters and Undergraduate courses, and I supervise some of their projects.

In respect to balancing my work with my home life, it’s all about flexibility. I feel I’m getting better at it as my children are getting older. When they were younger I had to work very flexibly and bring them into the office, and also worked at home and in the evenings. So now, by being able to work more in the office, it allows me a better balance and to keep home life more separate. As a School, we’ve agreed to restrict emailing hours, to control the quantity of email traffic being sent in the evenings and weekends. This is something I feel I’ve learnt from my own experiences, which will improve people’s work life balance in the future.

What advice would you give to your successor?

I would tell them to always value and get to know your staff, and to be flexible with them. For the School to flourish, you must get the best out of each member of staff, and this is often done by being willing to be flexible in terms of work-life balance. You can never have a firm rule, you must always do things on an individual basis.

Additionally, I would emphasise to never allow hierarchy within the team from junior to more senior members of staff. Everyone is equal and is respected. As long as they are doing their job to the best of their ability and helping to drive the School forward then I am happy.

Thank you to Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon for chatting to us about her role! We hope this has given you an insight into what being Head of a School might be like!

Flexible Working: Amanda Weston

As part of our blog series designed to celebrate flexible working week in the UK, and raise awareness about the benefits of flexible working, I spoke to Amanda Weston, who works at the Campus for Ageing and Vitality, about her experiences working part time.

What role do you work part time in?

I’m a Clinical Project Coordinator at 60% FTE. I provide admin support to clinical trials in the field of dementia. But I’m currently on redeployment, so I’m looking for another role.

Have your hours changed over time?

A little. I started working part time 8 years ago, and began on 50% FTE. Then, in my next role, I increased my hours slightly to 60% FTE, and stayed on those when I moved into my current role. However, the next role I’m looking at will likely be 80% FTE, which may not give me the same work-life balance as I’ve enjoyed in my previous roles.

What have you done recently in your part time role that you’re proud of?

I recently finished supporting a video for clinicians that raises awareness about dementia. I’ve also helped organise a big upcoming conference at the Centre for Life about a study I support.

What advantages or opportunities has working part time brought you?

Working part time has given me a much better work-life balance and a more rounded experience of life in general. As well as being able to care for my elderly parents, I’ve got really into yoga in my time off, and I’m actually going on a yoga retreat in Turkey next week, which I definitely wouldn’t have got the opportunity to do on full time hours!

What challenges did you face while working part time?

The main challenge for me has been that it’s very difficult to secure an open-ended job on part time hours, as many research part time roles are fixed term contracts attached to a specific grant or form of funding. This can be very difficult, but you just have to remain positive that the next role will come and be confident in your own abilities.

Where did you find support while working part time?

Generally, I see myself as fairly self-sufficient, but I have found my immediate work colleagues to be a really good support. The University Registrar, John Hogan, has also been particularly supportive of my development, as he has funded my study for an AUA Postgraduate Certificate.

What would you do differently if you had your time again?

If I had my time again I would make a more decisive choice to diversify within other areas of Higher Education, to make myself more flexible. I’ve worked in the same area for 8 years now, and believe that it’s not necessarily a good thing to become so specialised within a niche sector.

What do you think the University could do to help support part time workers like yourself?

Currently, when your being redeployed you’re only able to apply for jobs at the same grade as your current role, which can make career progression harder for staff on fixed term contracts, as we often only change jobs when our contract comes to an end. It would be nice if the University altered their policy so that perhaps, if you had been in the role for a certain number of years, you would able to apply for a higher grade job during redeployment.

I’ve also been talking to Candy Rowe, FMS’ Director of Diversity, about developing a database where part time workers could register and be paired with similar people across the University to apply for a full time role as a job share. I believe this would create a lot more opportunities for part time staff.

We hope you enjoyed hearing from Amanda about some of the challenges and opportunities she’s had while working part-time.

We’ll be running this blog series for the next few weeks, so if you currently work part time at NU and would be interested in talking about flexible working, we want to hear from you! To take part, please get in contact with Georgia Spencer.