Back To School – Part 3 

This weekend saw me return to Canterbury for the second official study weekend of my two year course. The main difference this time is that I have actually done something towards achieving the end goal.

That something has largely consisted of reading and highlighting followed by extended periods of reading and highlighting. The purpose of this is to work toward a literature review which explores my chosen subject area and highlights gaps which need answers.


As I am doing an MSc by Research I can chose my own subject area to explore. That’s why I opted for this course. I didn’t want to be restricted to modules and covering things I wasn’t interested in.

I was originally going to look at wellbeing within the police service but when I stared reading up on it a few months back I very quickly discovered it was data heavy and quite dry. As passionate as I am about supporting colleagues I felt that there was no way I could sustain such an interest for two years if I was already struggling after two weeks. It was time to think again.

Over the course of the following couple of days I was at work and became engaged in a series of lengthy and animated conversations about policing and its role in mental health crises. It dawned on me that, actually, this is a subject I already know something about and it is probably the one area of work which I am most passionate about. In terms of a research subject, I would be a fool to look elsewhere.

It is then a question of finding out what needs to be asked and reading to see if it has already been answered. If it has – is it right? If it hasn’t – it’s a gap.

And so I got my hands on as many academic papers and reports as I could on the subjects of police, mental health crises, use of Section 136, street triage, violence, deinstitutionalisation, partnership working between agencies involved in MH and anything which fell out of those reports.

Having poured over them and analysed them I was left with a lot of questions. A lot of questions. But they all kept coming back to one thing – why are the police so heavily involved in the first place? Leading from that is the question – and how do service users feel about police being involved so heavily in what is ultimately a health matter? In all the research – no one has asked them directly.

From this I developed the question “why the police?” and I was quite happy with it.

Then I came to Canterbury for the weekend.

On the evening of Friday night I had a long, lovely and very challenging conversation with a very knowledgable member of university staff. We spent a lot of that conversation asking each other “why?” about a lot of things.

I loved the entire thing but at times I was right out of my comfort zone and thinking hard. Which was good. All good. Until it was pointed out to me that the answer to my question “why the police?” is probably already known.

This sent me into a bit of a mental tailspin. I’ve been reading for ages. I have even used a highlighter! I had written a thematic plan of how the literature review might look and the areas I wanted to cover. Was this all to waste and if so – what the hell was I doing at university in the first place?

I stress that this was down to my own insecurities and hang-ups and the conversation I had with my new found friend was nothing but positive, constructive and enjoyable. I’m just not used to being challenged like that. In some respects it was awesome – in others I thought I might be drowning.

And so I retired to my hotel thinking “I can’t do this.” I am such a catastrophiser.

I enjoyed the following days lectures and picked up some new tricks, tactics and reading material but was really waiting for my tutorial at lunchtime. I needed to close this down.

When I met with Emma (Williams) I said how I felt. I can be direct like that – sometimes too much. I told Emma how much I had read, what I had read and how I had linked things together. I showed her my written plan and I swear I saw her eyes light up in delight. Having had no prior training or experience in any of this I was pleased to be reassured that I was, albeit instinctively, doing exactly the right thing.

Then we came to the issue of whether I could carry on with it as a subject given that the answer to my original question was probably already known. (The answer to “why the police?” by the way is “because no one else can / will / is set up to.”)

This was one of those moments when you are always pleased to speak to someone who is much better at something than you are. Within twenty seconds Emma had spun it and we had rephrased the question.

Without losing any of the work already done and by using my findings in exactly the same way it can be used to ask something which isn’t really covered in the literature to date.

Most of it – particularly more recent stuff – particulary around triage – simply takes for granted that the police have a role (an ever expanding role) in dealing with mental health issues and that things should be rolled out further.

There is a fundamental issue with this assumption which has not been addressed.

I am therefore very pleased to announce that the provisional working title of my research will be:

Are the police the right people to be dealing with mental health incidents?

Thank you to Emma for the reassurance and support and thank you to my new friend (you know who you are) for such a challenging, enjoyable and thought provoking conversation. 

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2 responses to “Back To School – Part 3 ”

  1. Judy says :

    Great title, fascinating insight into how academic research works as well

  2. Jenny says :

    This is a great account of the start of what I hope will be an enjoyable research collaboration. I used to teach master’s students in public health and in my experience practitioners (those with their boots on the ground) come up with the best research questions. I have no doubt you will learn a lot! I look forward to following your journey and reading about your findings.

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