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People with long-term mental health problems face profound social exclusion. They also die much younger than the general population from preventable causes. This is not just a medical issue; there is a need to address the contributory social and psychological factors.

While some of the poor health of this population may be attributed to lifestyle behaviours and psychotropic medication, other social and psychological factors such as low self-esteem, exclusion, loneliness, and discrimination are indirectly implicated.

The mechanisms behind such disparities are systemic and multifactorial, requiring integrated cross-sectoral and person-centred approaches that are currently patchy or absent. Missing too are the voices of people with mental health problems and their families.

Watch the documentary

Watch a short film about the CHOICE project here.

Community Coalition

The CHOICE project is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council and seeks to build a wide network of people and organisations to tackle the issues of social exclusion and poor physical health among people living with severe and enduring mental health problems.

This requires a whole-systems approach that engages key public, private and voluntary stakeholders while placing people living with mental health illness at the centre of co-design activities and ideas.

Research Team

  • Prof. Gerard Leavey, Director of the Bamford Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing at Ulster University
  • Dr. Saul Golden, Senior Lecturer in the Belfast School of Architecture and the Built Environment at Ulster University
  • Dr Pamela Whitaker, Lecturer in Art Psychotherapy in the Belfast School of Art at Ulster University
  • Dr Ian Miller, Lecturer in Medical History at Ulster University
  • Ken Grant, Senior Lecturer in Photography in the Belfast School of Art at Ulster University
  • Dr Gavin Breslin, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Ulster University
  • Prof. Gavin Davidson, Professor in the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen's University Belfast
  • Prof. Mark Tully, Associate Research Director of the Institute of Mental Health Science and Professor of Public Health at Ulster University
  • Dr. Anna Skoura, Research Associate in the School of Psychology at Ulster University
  • Michelle Howorth, Evidence and Impact Lead in Inspire Wellbeing

Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR)

We propose using Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) to harness the ideas, skills, energies, and resources from a spectrum of agencies and people in Northern Ireland, with the longer-term goal of creating evidence-based interventions to support and enable these approaches.

Our overall aim is to establish and sustain a community partnership to co-produce innovative arts-based approaches to tackling social exclusion and reducing the health inequalities experienced by people living with mental health problems. Our vision is that people living with mental illness can lead healthy, flourishing lives.

Community Advisory Board

Member biographies

Anne Doherty

Anne’s passion over the past 30 years lies with mental health and wellbeing from early intervention and prevention perspectives. Initially qualifying as a Graphic Designer, from the National College of Art and Design Dublin, 1989, she developed a number of initiatives with RTE, National Museum of Art and Design and Collaboration North while also supporting young people at risk through arts initiatives with St John of God, FAS and subsequently back home in Belfast with Voluntary Services Belfast and the National Schizophrenia Fellowship. The voluntary sector appeals to her values and ethos which has resulted in her contributing to the growth and development of a number of small – medium sized 3rd sector organisations not least MindWise, where she holds the position of Chief Executive.  In addition to her role in MindWise  Anne is an actively participating Trustee of Mental Health UK (MHUK),, an alliance of four leading mental health charities across the UK. Anne believes the key to success is the partnerships she has formed with the people she works for and with – most importantly the working relationships formed with those directly affected by mental health needs. Committed to life-long learning and reflective practice she holds a number of health care leadership and management qualifications including but not least a MBA, Life, Executive, Mental Health and Wellbeing Coach and Coach Supervisor and a post graduate diploma in Trauma Studies. She has been instrumental in integrating Coaching into health care practice across disciplines and at all levels and more recently was awarded a Coaching Hero Award by the Minister for Health ROI. Anne was also recently awarded CO3’s Leading on Organisational Change Award.

Dr Richard Wilson

He is the Chair of RCPsych Northern Ireland and the Vice President of the RCPsych.  Dr Wilson is a Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist working in Northern Health & Social Care Trust CAMHS and has held leadership roles including Trust Lead Clinician. Dr Wilson served as Chair of the Child & Adolescent Faculty of RCPsych in NI from 2015.  His clinical interests include child and adolescent neuropsychiatry, as well as complex relational trauma and its effects in mental health, values-based practice, intelligent kindness in healthcare systems, evidence-based outcomes, and professional education in mental health. Dr Wilson is interested in the history and development of ideas around mental health matters and is strongly in favour of integration of thinking and construction of services to promote true inclusivity for young people who are experiencing mental health problems.

Greer Wilson

Greer is a qualified social worker who has worked directly with service users in children’s services, elderly and dementia services, learning and physical disability services and complex needs. Greer joined Praxis Care in September 2019 as Director of Care, Operations and Development after working for the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust for 20 years. Most recently, this included eight years as a senior manager with responsibility for learning and physical disability services, care management, day care settings and supported living schemes.

Geoff Nutall

He is Head of Policy & Public Affairs for NICVA.  He has over 20 years’ experience in the NI voluntary and community sector, including five years as Head of NICVA’s European Unit and over fifteen years in environmental policy advocacy and community-based project development, as Head of WWF Northern Ireland, Head of Policy and Campaigns for the National Trust, and for the Woodland Trust.  He has also worked in the private and public sectors on EU policy and economic development as the Head of Newcastle upon Tyne Council’s European Unit, and for Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce/World Trade Centre.

Prof. Gavin Davidson

Gavin is a Professor of Social Care and Praxis Chair of Social Care at Queen’s University Belfast. He qualified as a social worker in 1995 then worked for 12 years in mental health services before starting at Queen’s in 2008. His main research interests are in mental health, specifically: the social determinants of mental health; the effectiveness of services; human rights and mental health/mental capacity legislation; and the associations between adversity, trauma and mental health. His main education responsibility at Queen’s is for the Mental Health and Mental Capacity Law Post-Graduate Diploma course which prepares social workers for their statutory duties under those legal frameworks. Gavin is also involved in the implementation of the Mental Capacity Act (Northern Ireland) 2016, and the Mental Health Strategy 2021-2031 for Northern Ireland which includes a positive focus on promotion, prevention and the social determinants of mental health.

Dr. Gail Johnston

Gail has worked as a programme manager in HSC R&D Division, Public Health Agency with a special responsibility for Personal and Public Involvement since 2009. HSC R&D Division distributes the DoH fund for HSC Research in Northern Ireland.  The Public Health Agency (PHA) was established in April 2009 as part of the reforms to Health and Social Care (HSC) in Northern Ireland. The Agency is a major regional organisation for health protection and health and social wellbeing improvement. Its role also commits it to addressing the causes and associated inequalities of preventable ill-health and lack of wellbeing. It is a multi-disciplinary, multi-professional body with a strong regional and local presence. Gail previously worked for 10 years as a Macmillan Lecturer at Queen’s University and Macmillan Cancer Support, having completed her PhD in Dundee University in 1998. In her current role, she has developed a Strategy for Personal and Public Involvement in HSC R&D, established a Public Involvement Enhancing Research (PIER) NI panel and worked with colleagues in the NI Cancer Research Consumer Forum to deliver the first service user led Building Research Partnerships Programme in Northern Ireland, which has now been attended by over 400 researchers and public contributors. She is a strong advocate for PPI in research and keen to support researchers and the public in its practical implementation through close collaborations with partners in the UK and Ireland.

Dr. Janet Diffin

Janet is a Programme Manager within HSC R&D Division, Public Health Agency (PHA). The HSC R&D Division distributes the Department of Health (DoH) fund for HSC Research in Northern Ireland. The PHA was established in April 2009 as part of the reforms to Health and Social Care (HSC) in Northern Ireland. The Agency is a major regional organisation for health protection and health and social wellbeing improvement.Janet brings to her current role over 14 years’ experience in the management and delivery of research projects within the academic, public and charity and voluntary sector. Whilst Janet’s portfolio of work with HSC R&D Division covers a wide variety of research related activities and support, it specifically includes the areas of Mental Health, Social Care research and Personal and Public Involvement (PPI). Previously, Janet worked at The University of Manchester on a large programme of work on improving support for family carers, has worked with Hospice UK as an Evaluation Fellow for their Project ECHO workstream within NI, and more recently as a policy analyst with the NI Utility Regulator with a particular focus on improving support and services for consumers in vulnerable circumstances.

Lewis Ross

Lewis was educated in Belfast, England, France and Germany. His main area of expertise is foreign languages, mainly French and German. He was employed as an editorial assistant at two vocational learning publishing houses. He developed mental health issues in 2007 and that enacted his engagement with mental health services. Since then he has been contributing to the mental health narratives and on how mental health services can be improved.