#CfP: #Relationships & #MentalHealth – Towards a relational understanding of #distress

Call for Chapters

Relationships and Mental Health:

Towards a relational understanding of distress

Edited by Zoë Boden & Michael Larkin


It is well documented that supportive, close relationships are central to wellbeing (e.g. Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010; Metz, 2009), but connectedness in the context of mental health and distress is complex. Interpersonal relationships are dually implicated in both “the creation and amelioration of mental health problems” (Pilgrim, Rogers & Bentall, 2009, p.235). People experiencing distress can sometimes find relationships ‘risky’ or frightening (Dorahy et al., 2013; Lysaker, Johannesen, & Lysaker, 2005; Redmond, Larkin & Harrop, 2010), often in the context of early experiences of trauma and adversity (Edwards, Holden, Felitti & Anda, 2003; Read, Van Os & Morrison, 2005), and stigmatisation and exclusion are commonplace (De Silva et al 2005; Pilgrim et al., 2009; Sayce, 2000). Nevertheless, connectedness is such a fundamental need for most people that, even in challenging circumstances, people desire, seek, or attempt to preserve relational bonds.

Recently the social context of distress and recovery has begun to receive more attention. In research there is an emerging acknowledgement of the fundamental role of connectedness for recovery (e.g. Marino, 2015; Mezzino et al., 2006; Price-Robertson, Obradovic & Morgan, 2017; Schön, Denhov & Topor, 2009; Tew et al., 2012; Topor et al., 2006; Wyder & Bland, 2016). In clinical settings there have been calls to recognise the relational context of distress (e.g. Priebe, Burns & Craig, 2013; Johnson, 2017) and innovative, relationally-focused interventions are emerging (e.g. Family Group Conferencing, De Jong, Schout & Abma, 2014; Open Dialogue, Seikkula et al., 2006). At policy level too, there have been indications that relationality is being taken more seriously (e.g. UK Cabinet Office Think Family, 2008; the UK Care Act, 2014; Tackling Loneliness briefing, 2019).

However, contemporary constructions of the self as individualist and independent, and biomedical models that construct distress as the result of biological processes in discreet organisms, mean services struggle to take account of the relational context of distress and recovery. They are constrained by limited resources, a risk-adverse culture and ‘production line’ organisational structures (Pilgrim et al., 2009; Tew, Morris, White, Featherstone & Fenton, 2016), and have no reliable repertoire for incorporating the everyday landscape of relationships into clinical practice. In attempting to manage the risks associated with relationships, services may become a barrier to the protection they could offer. Conversely, services sometimes try to engineer social relationships, with mixed results.

The “independence imperative” (Taylor, 2014, p.248) seen in contemporary adult mental health services has led to the research and praxis around relationality and distress being scattered or siloed. Accounts of the relational complexities facing people experiencing distress, their loved ones, and professionals deserve amplification and analysis. This book will bring together perspectives on the ‘messiness’ of relational life in the context of mental health, with the aim of developing a relational understanding of distress and recovery.

The call

Chapters are invited that explore how relationships are experienced and understood in the context of psychological distress, crisis or recovery, and which could fall into one of the following sections:

  • Caring and kinship
  • Love and sexuality
  • Friendship and sociality
  • Interventions, services, settings and staff

Chapters should report original empirical or theoretical work that focuses on mental health in adulthood (16+), has a clear theoretical and/or critical frame, and privileges experience and understanding. Research conducted in any context is welcome, including contributions from lived experience/survivor researchers and practitioners. Interdisciplinary approaches are most welcome.

Proposals for chapters should be sent as follows:

  • Title
  • Author(s)
  • Abstract (<200 words, please comment on background, theoretical framing, methodology, findings and conclusions, recommendations for practice or research)
  • Keywords (<6)
  • Biographical note(s) (<150 words per author, including current role/position and affiliation).

Please send to z.boden by September 30th 2020. Informal enquiries are welcome. We expect to make preliminary decisions by mid-November.

If you would like to submit a proposal but will struggle to make this deadline, please get in touch.

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