The rewards and challenges of working in mental health: an interview with Professor Karina Lovell#

In their interview series, the Cardiff Knowledge Hub interviewed Prof. Karina Lovell who shares insights into her career and research in the mental health sector.

Karina Lovell
Professor Karina Lovell

About Professor Karina Lovell MAE#

Professor Karina Lovell MAE is Professor of Mental Health in the Division of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, University of Manchester, UK. She served two terms as an NIHR senior Investigator and is now Emeritus. She was the Director of Research at the University’s School of Health Sciences until 2021. Professor Lovell has received several awards throughout her career, including a number of awards for patient and public involvement and engagement. She is past president of the BABCP, a fellow of the European Academy of Neurology (EAN) and a patron of Anxiety UK.

The interview#

Karina, what is your career story? How did you arrive at where you are now, in professional terms?

“I completed my mental health nurse training in the early 1980s and then completed the ENB650 behaviour therapy course at the Maudsley Hospital in London. I also worked as a clinical nurse specialist and tutor for that course. I was interested in research and did some small studies.

I completed a degree, a Masters, a cognitive therapy course, a Postgraduate Diploma in Education and my PhD, all part-time whilst working clinically.

In 1998, I was appointed as a part-time lecturer at the University of Manchester and worked as a CBT therapist in Macclesfield and Stockport (near Manchester). I was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2002 and then Professor of Mental Health in 2005.

I was a Non-Executive Board Member at Manchester Mental Health Trust and Director of Research for the University of Manchester’s School of Health Sciences. I’ve held 2 NIHR (National Institute for Health Research) Senior Investigator awards and am now NIHR Senior Investigator Emeritus.”

You are both a clinician and an academic. Could you tell us about the benefits and challenges of undertaking both roles?

“The benefits of working both as an academic and clinician have been huge in terms of research ideas emerging from staff, service users and their carers. It has been a privilege to work with both the NHS (UK National Health Service) and the third sector as it has kept me grounded in the real challenges that are faced by the health sector. It has also been invaluable to ensure my credibility as a teacher.

The challenges have also been great as it has been difficult to juggle all these roles, and unfortunately it is difficult, as a nurse, to sustain them in the long term.”

You have published on a range of interconnected topics over the course of your career. Could you give us an overview of your evolving research interests?

“My research has covered developing, delivering, evaluating and implementing low-intensity remote interventions for anxiety and depression, and for long-term health conditions including chronic widespread pain, diabetes and coronary heart disease.

I have also completed a number of large trials, qualitative work and systematic reviews on improving the patient experience of care planning. I’ve recently been involved in Global Health Work in Indonesia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Currently I am the Mental Health theme lead in the Applied Research Collaboration in Greater Manchester (ARC GM), working on ‘parity of esteem’, where mental health is given equal value to physical health. We are looking into the experience of hunger in people with serious mental health problems who take antipsychotic medications. We have just been awarded two NIHR Invention for Innovation (i4i) awards to focus on mobile apps for children and young people.”

Within your own field of mental health, what does the evidence tell us about what works in tackling depression and anxiety? Are there any examples of good practice you’d point to?

“There are many established evidence-based interventions for managing anxiety and depression, particularly Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). We have completed many large trials of CBT that show its clinical and cost-effectiveness in depression, OCD, phobias, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic widespread pain, rheumatoid arthritis, and people with diabetes and/or coronary heart disease. However, CBT does not work for all people and the challenge to develop new co-produced interventions remains.”

What are you working on right now, and has the pandemic influenced your research plans?

“I completed a writing workshop funded by the British Academy to help increase the quality of publications in Indonesia, started the i4i research with children and young people and am also working on a community engagement event with ARC GM.

The pandemic has not influenced my research plans but it has delayed a number of projects. As I had good knowledge of remote working prior to the pandemic, I’ve trained in excess of 1000 health professionals to help them deliver psychological interventions remotely.”

Which direction will your research take you next? What do you see as priorities in terms of research and policy development in your field, over the coming decade?

“Our research will focus on global health particularly in Indonesia (improving mental health) and Sub-Saharan Africa (psychological interventions for women who have experienced a stillbirth). I will continue to work with children and young people’s mental health and strive to improve the physical health of people with severe mental health problems.”

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