PROJECT – Students

Fictional Representations of Self-Harm

30 October 2019

PhD Project: Interview Study


Do you have experience of self-harm? Would you consider being interviewed about your views on fictional representations of self-harm?

This project takes as its starting point the possibility that fictional representations in some way may impact the conversations that it is possible to have around self-harm. It works from the belief that the way we talk about self-harm matters, because such conversations can influence, positively or negatively, the experience and lives of people who self-harm.


About the Project

Despite efforts to reduce stigma around self-harm, people who self-harm rarely seek help or support. Research into young people who self-harm suggests that they are more likely to initially approach informal contacts rather than to disclose to a medical practitioner. Talking about self-harming to friends, parents, teachers, colleagues, or partners can be an important step in the process of accessing support or help. But it is possible that this could be made more difficult by the lack of available representations of self-harm.

The project aims to examine existing fictional representations of self-harm and to explore how these might or might not impact disclosure and help-seeking, and if so in what ways. The results from the project will form the basis for a PhD thesis, and also for papers, presentations, and other work on the topic of representations of self-harm. This work may contribute to public policy and advocacy in a number of areas.

This project was originally designed as a result of the primary researcher’s own experiences of self-harm, and the design has been further refined in consultation with an advisory group made up of individuals with experience of self-harm.

What would taking part involve?

Taking part in the research involves participating in an interview on the topic of fictional representations of self-harm. The interview will be conducted by Veronica, whose own experiences of self-harm provided the original idea for the research. The interview will probably last between 1-2 hours. The interview would take place in a location of your choosing, such as in a café, a library, an office, or in your home; if you would like the researcher to arrange a space or a room for the interview then this will be arranged. As far as possible the researcher will travel to you, to ensure that you are not inconvenienced.

If you prefer not to be interviewed in person, then it will be possible to conduct the interview via skype or via the telephone. If you find verbal communication difficult then you may request to submit written responses, to ensure that your perspectives can still be included in the research.

The interview will probably involve discussion of:

  • What fictional representations you are aware of or have consumed
  • Whether they were important to you and if so in what ways
  • Whether you enjoyed them or not
  • Whether they had any impact on your experiences or understandings of self-harm
  • How you think existing fictional representations might be improved

Will participants receive any payment for taking part?

All participants will be compensated for their time, as a reflection of their expertise and your vital role as co-creators of research knowledge. As an indication of the equal value placed upon the time of all contributors in the research process, participants will be compensated in line with the primary researcher’s most recent paid employment (as a Research Assistant). Therefore, all participants will be offered compensation for their time at the rate of £15.25 per hour. Payment will be made in cash or in the form of a voucher; participants can choose whichever form is more convenient.

Participants will also be compensated for all expenses incurred by participating in this study: this includes travel expenses (which can be booked on participants’ behalf in advance, rather than claimed back subsequently), childcare expenses, and the expenses for an accompanying adult if this would be helpful for travel purposes.

How to find out more?

If you are interested in being interviewed as part of this project and would like to find out some more about the project, and what the interview might involve, you can read the information sheet below.

Participant Information Sheet – Detailed

Participant Information Sheet – Easy Read

Alternatively if you have any questions, concerns, or would like to set up an interview please do contact Veronica Heney either by email ( or on twitter (@VeronicaHeney).

PROJECT – Students

Virtual Nature

4 June 2019

Virtual Nature is a PhD project exploring how digital experiences of the natural world can impact health and wellbeing. Led by Alex Smalley, it is investigating how nature, culture and technology can combine to enhance psychological health.

Research has shown that spending time in natural environments can boost physical and mental health. For many people however—such as those in long term care, with a physical disability or in densely urban areas—regular contact with nature can be difficult to achieve.

New advances in virtual reality technology provide an opportunity to overcome these barriers, bringing ‘nature’ to people who cannot otherwise access it. This study is examining how people feel about these experiences, how they affect wellbeing, and how they might be used in real-world situations.

Full project details can be found at



Using digital tools to explore the psychology of nature-based experiences is not new; researchers have used photographs, video and audio to replicate contact with ‘real’ nature for several decades.

These studies have helped to examine the physical and psychological effects of contact with the natural world, and allowed scientists to build theories about how and why spending time in these environments can affect mental wellbeing.

Now, new breakthroughs in the field of virtual reality have provided an exciting opportunity to go further. Developments in 360 cameras, digital rendering, audio recording, head-mounted displays, and mobile applications allow us to immerse people in spaces and places like never before.

This opportunity to bring realistic nature-based experiences to those who cannot readily access them opens up new possibilities for therapeutic interventions. But we currently know very little about whether this kind of approach can be used to boost wellbeing, and if so, how best to create, optimise and deliver it.


Starting with sound

In the push to maximise recent advances in VR technology, developers and researchers have tended to focus on immersive visual experiences. Yet we know that the sounds of nature also have the potential to improve people’s wellbeing, and that the sonic environment of the natural world is preferred to listening to other kinds of sounds.

However, so far there hasn’t been a systematic attempt to unpick how audio can be used in virtual reality to create a restorative nature-based experience.

To address this gap in knowledge, we’ve partnered with the BBC to launch the Forest 404 Experiment, one of the biggest soundscape studies ever conducted. We’re asking the UK public to help us collect data and chart people’s responses to a variety of natural sounds and nature-based poetry.

You can take part in the experiment and learn more about the Forest 404 drama by visiting

The outcomes of this experiment will give us a unique insight into how the sounds of nature might influence psychological wellbeing. We will be able to measure the importance of people’s life experience, and make judgements about what kind of sounds might work best in virtual reality.

The next steps will be to test these findings in more detail, using them in virtual reality to learn how and why people respond differently.

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