Mental Health

Mental health is an important research and teaching theme at The Open University. In terms of teaching The Open University offers a range of modules and qualifications designed to lift the lid on this complex, fast moving, and sometimes controversial area. Undergraduate students can study particular modules, such as “Mental Health and Community” (K240) which explores many aspects of supporting people with mental health problems in the community, and “Approaches to Mental Health” (K314) which explores the various approaches to supporting mental wellbeing. Students can also study mental health-related topics at post-graduate level, and this includes undertaking doctoral projects in the field.

Current research covers a range of mental health topics including dementia; diabetes and depression; computerised therapies; adolescent mental health; suicide; LGBT+ mental health; and mental health workforce challenges.

The Mental Health Group [part of the wider Health Studies Research Group] held an inaugural Open University-wide sandpit event in 2016 to help build research networks and capacity across the university. From this, the group has developed several projects, on both individual and collaborative levels.

Doctoral students

Sakura Byrne, PhD student at The Open University. Thesis topic – “Balancing act: An exploration into mental wellbeing, bisexual identity, and monogamy”. Studentship funded by the ESRC Doctoral Training Programme/DTP. Supervisors Dr. Mathijs Lucassen and Dr. Helen Bowes-Catton and Dr. Nikki Hayfield (University of the West of England).

Laura Patterson, PhD student at The Open University researching adolescent mental health. Undertaking qualitative research into the lived experience of adolescents communicating suicidal behaviour following a suicide attempt. Specifically, how that is communicated by the adolescent in suicidal distress and how it is heard by those in their relational network. Supervisors: Dr Sharon Mallon and Dr Neil Summers.

Annie Storkey, EdD student at The Open University. Thesis topic – “How can students with mental health challenges be empowered to become independent learners within a technology-enhanced learning environment?”. Undertaking emancipatory action research to explore the support needs of online undergraduate students with mental health challenges, using a critical realist approach alongside an affirmative model of disability. Supervisors: Dr Sarah Vicary and Dr Neil Summers.

Claire Townsend, Doctorate in Health and Social Care (DHSC) at The Open University. Thesis topic – “What are the experiences of people with a personality disorder diagnosis of being assessed in a place of safety after being detained on a ‘s136’ (Mental Health Act, 1983)? How can these inform Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) practice?”. Supervisor: Dr Sarah Vicary.

Group Members Include:


Current News

New tools to identify issues in maternal mental health

A new website which gives access to tools to help health workers identify difficulties in mothers’ relationships with their infants is being launched on World Maternal Mental Health Day (6 May 2020).

Designed and led by John Oates, Professor of Developmental Psychology in the OU’s Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies, who conducted the research on which the tools are based, the website offers simple questionnaires and guidance for their use by health workers to spot difficulties and to support work with women to overcome them.

“Low mood and worry are affecting most of us in this COVID-19 crisis, said Professor Oates. For mothers with infants, this can add to their usual concerns, and helping to protect the vital bonding during this time is crucial”

The Mother Object Relations Scales (MORS) website provides a validated and easy-to-use way of assessing mother-infant relating in primary care and tracking response to therapy.

The questionnaire asks questions about how a woman views her baby and their behaviour.

“Our research is showing that anxiety or depression can lead to mothers seeing their babies in less positive ways, sometimes feeling that they are too demanding, feeling annoyed with them or feeling distant from them, said Professor Oates. There is evidence that this can be associated with later difficulties for child development.

A positive research finding from a recent study shows that good social support can reduce these difficulties, so partners and other family members should realise how important their support is, not just for now, but for the future of their children.”


For more information about the Mental Health Research Group please email