PsyPAG 2020 Virtual Annual Conference: Insights from Sophia Fedorowicz

Written by Sophia Fedorowicz, PhD researcher.

Sophia Fedorowicz

On the 31st of July I presented the preliminary findings of my PhD project ‘Experiences of talking to your GP about suicide’ at the PsyPAG annual conference, and this year the conference came with a twist. As a consequence of the coronavirus outbreak the majority of academic pursuits have moved online, including conferences. The Psychology Postgraduate Affairs Group answered the call to remote conferencing by designing a Twitter-takeover style conference, depositing delegates posters and pre-recorded presentations in an open access database facilitated by the Open Science Framework and scheduling posts and discussion around them on Twitter throughout the day. There were also workshops over zoom and a social area to network and support each other. Nice. An excellent effort by the PsyPAG team that somehow made us all feel like we were together, despite being apart.  

My Project

My PhD focusses on the patient experience of being assessed for risk of suicide in primary care with an emphasis on patient and public involvement in the project design and execution. The presentation featured at PsyPAG 2020 detailed a study that was co-created with Expert Citizens, an independent group of people who have all experienced multiple needs – combinations of mental ill health, homelessness, addiction and offending behaviour, and offer their lived experience to projects such as mine, service evaluation and many other exceptional undertakings. I presented the preliminary findings of this study seeking to understand how patients experience talking to their GPs about suicide alongside Phil Parkes, the volunteer coordinator for Expert Citizens who has played a key role in the work so far.  

The project consists of an on-line, open-ended survey asking participants questions about their experiences. Working with people who have lived experience led to designing the questions to be as trauma informed as possible and using language that was suitable for the general public. We also emphasised to the participants that they could stay up to date with the progress of the study should they wish to. The purpose of this was to allow the participant to maintain ownership of their contribution and to keep being involved as the study progressed should they wish to.  

We are currently engaged in the analysis of the responses of forty-one participants, aged between 19 and 67. Presently, a dominant theme is how much the attitude of the GP towards the patient matters to the overall experience. For example, even if the GP is not able to provide any practical support for the patient, if they are perceived to be empathic and understanding allowing the person seeking help to talk about their distress, then the patient leaves feeling more positive about the consultation. Participants commented that they felt somewhat relieved by being able to talk to someone about it and to have the potential for ongoing support from their GP. Whereas patients who received a referral to a secondary service but felt the GP was dismissive of them left feeling regretful, and in some cases worse than they did before the consultation.  

These findings are preliminary and there is much more work to be done, this project will also inform further investigation focussing on people trying to access support for suicidal thoughts and feelings using primary care services during the lockdown. If you would like to discuss any part of this project or be kept up to date as it progresses, please get in touch via email ( or Twitter (@Soph_Fedorowicz).

If you are currently experiencing suicidal thoughts and feelings 

Please know that you are not alone. We encourage you to seek support from someone you trust, your GP or a support service like the Samaritans. You matter.  

You can call the Samaritans on 116 123 or access their website for further support HERE (

You can also go to, this resource was developed in collaboration with people who have lived experience and is designed to help keep you safe.

The impact that lockdown might be having on body image

Dr Alison Owen appeared on BBC Radio Ulster on May 1st 2020 on the Evening Extra show with Devon Harvey and Julie McCullough to discuss the impact that lockdown may be having on people’s body image.

Dr Alison Owen

The discussion was based around the way that people are feeling about themselves during lockdown. For example, in terms of people not being able to get their hair cut or dyed or maintain their usual beauty regime.

Dr Owen talked about the fact that although many people are in lockdown at the moment, they are finding that they do still feel a lot of pressure on their appearance.

She discussed the impact that video calling may have on people’s body image. Many people are taking part in video calling, using applications such as Zoom and FaceTime, both for work and for keeping in touch with friends and family. This means that people are looking at their faces on a screen much more often than they usually would. This can really add to the pressure of maintaining a more polished appearance, so things like making sure that their hair looks presentable, or maybe feeling like they should apply makeup.

Another factor that was discussed during the programme was that video calling can bring attention to appearance-based flaws that people wouldn’t normally be focussing on. So, for example, wrinkles or imperfections that they can see whilst watching themselves on the screen.

Additionally, Dr Owen discussed how people may be spending more time on social media during lockdown, because they aren’t able to get out and see friends and family in person it’s a good way of feeling connected to them. However, this can also lead to pressures in terms of looking at more heavily filtered images of their friends and family as opposed to seeing them in person where they may not look so polished!

You can catch up on the radio interview, which is available up to June 1st. Dr Owen’s discussions are from around 55 minutes in.

The Science Centre

The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Student Blog: Applied Research MSc and beyond

By Sophia Fedorowicz, MSc by Applied Research student

What is master’s study all about? Twelve months ago, I would have described it as a stepping stone to PhD. As a way of expanding knowledge before committing to a PhD or perhaps a way of qualifying for some kinds of clinical practice, such as occupational therapy masters courses. I think many students think about masters courses that way and some even hop over that stage of study completely and go straight for PhD. I completed an MSc taught course one week ago and now I feel very different about master’s level study. Yes, it is training course to give you skills for what comes next, whether that be PhD or practice, but it is also an arena for growth and experimentation. I wish I had known this before I started so here I am to pass on the hard won knowledge.

A level 7 course situates you in a place where you are free to try new approaches, explore new ideas and network the dickens out of conferences whilst developing your professional identity. Here is a place where you can explore the culture of the discipline you have chosen, read outside the curriculum, outside of seminal texts, even cult pamphlets if you want to, so you can understand more about your area, what is happening in that area and where you want to fit into it.

My broad area of interest is mental health and I went into my master’s from a psychology undergraduate course not really knowing where I would go with it. I just knew that I wanted to learn more. In the past year I have undertaken two applied experience placements, written blogs, spoken to people from every area of mental health from academics to practitioners in many different areas to people in the third sector supporting people with mental distress. I have presented at a conference and gone on a trip to York University to volunteer with the Cochrane Common Mental Disorders Group and written so many essays. I have taken every opportunity to explore what kind of researcher I want to be, what my passion is and how I want to develop after the course. All of this would not have been possible without the support of my small group of peers, this experience had taught me the value of connecting with other students and how powerful just meeting up for a coffee is in terms of personal wellbeing. I have been exceptionally busy for months and months at a time and have developed some tried and tested, armour-clad stress management strategies as a result.

Moving forward, I am starting a PhD this year and I couldn’t be more sure that it is the right thing for me to do. The topic is right, the approach is right, the supervisors are right, and I feel like a different person from my undergraduate self. I feel like an early career researcher with a point of view, connections under my belt and a career ahead of me. From my perspective, that’s what master’s study is all about.

Bio: Sophia Fedorowicz is a PhD student exploring experiences of suicide risk assessments, bringing experts by experience into the research process and working to develop guidelines to improve the assessments. Areas of interest include public and patient involvement and engagement and how individuals experience and communicate experiences of mental distress. She loves collaboration and coffee so get in touch if you want to connect.

Twitter: @Soph_Fedorowicz / @_LESRA_


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.