Mental health has always intrigued me. It started in my psychiatry rotation in medical school and deepened during my training to become a general practitioner (GP). Each day a GP will see mental health presentations in their practice, and it was the amount of mental health presentations in general practice that generated my interest in research. There has been much research already done in primary care mental health such as the work on serious mental illness by the late Helen Lester and depression in older people by Carolyn Chew-Graham, both eminent academic GPs, but there is still much more to do, and primary care holds significant potential for improving the mental health of patients and the public.
My clinical practice and role with the Royal College of General Practitioners guided me towards considering ways we can improve the care for people who self-harm in general practice. Self-harm affects the lives of many people, especially young people, and at present there is very little that GPs can offer young people who self-harm. I admit that I have always been inclined towards academia and further study although I am sure all those who train to be medical doctors also are. However, I was at a junction in my professional career where I felt it was the right time to formally undertake research to improve the care we can offer as GPs, and make a positive difference to patients, the public, and the National Health Service.
“My sole advice would be to read and critique the academic literature widely in your area of interest, and then find supportive and encouraging senior researchers to guide you along your journey.”
Through the support of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) I have been able to train and develop whilst also building my research on self-harm in primary care alongside my clinical work as a GP. I would encourage all GPs, clinical colleagues, and those colleagues who are non-clinical, to really consider working towards a NIHR Fellowship application if you are serious about mental health research and want to make a difference. Fellowships can provide an excellent opportunity to build skills, develop ideas, and achieve outputs.