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Lou’s research journey into mental health within education settings

Lou Norman, PhD student at the University of Gloucestershire.

“Having studied both undergraduate and postgraduate taught degrees at the University of Gloucestershire, I was reluctant to move to another university to do a PhD. My journey with the University of Gloucestershire started eight years ago, when as a mature student, with a family, I was making enquiries about degree courses in Education. From the outset, the team at the School of Education and Humanities were encouraging, welcoming and friendly and I haven’t looked back since.

My PhD journey started in 2018, building on my master’s dissertation topic, which had explored the impact that different educational experiences have on academic achievement. This time I wanted to research the impact of mental health issues and perceptions of mental health issues within a sixth form setting. Mental health is a fascinating area of research, and whilst it currently seems quite en-vogue, that is not the driving force behind my research. There are so many complex issues facing young women at this age, not only with how the brain is developing alongside other physiological changes, but also self-efficacy, exam results, relationships and not forgetting the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Some of my participants have not yet taken any formal exams, and the pressure to perform in order to gain university entry or move on to the next stage are immense. Support in schools for mental health issues is a bit of a misnomer too, with many participants reporting that the support is good in lower school but not sixth form. There is also the stigma of mental health issues and not wanting to share or speak to peers or friends about it. This really is a social media generation, with individuals only showing the good life on social media, whilst behind social media, there is often a different story.

As I enter my final year, it brings a feeling of sadness of leaving somewhere where I have loved studying. However, during my time at the university, and with support from all my tutors, I have developed a passion for research. So, as I look to move on, I take my desire to continue researching into how there can be more support in schools for female sixth-formers mental health, and hopefully, in the future teach at higher education level.”