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Elizabeth McDermott

Senior Lecturer in Health Research, Lancaster University

My research is concerned with mental health inequality especially in relation to age, sexuality, gender and social class. I have conducted studies investigating suicide, self-harm, emotional distress, wellbeing and happiness. My research attempts to investigate and develop understandings of the social, economic and cultural origins of mental health and wellbeing, and produce evidence which can inform policy and practice.

Current Research

LGBT Youth Suicide Prevention ProjectI am the Lead Applicant (in collaboration with the University of York) of a Department of Health (UK Government) funded study which aims to investigate suicide, self-harm and help-seeking behaviours of 16 to 25 years old young Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) people. This 23-month project commences on 1st February 2014.
PhD supervision projects:
Young people with prenatally acquired HIV transition to adulthood – Salome Muchena
Online peer support for fathers in the UK – Sean Mackay

Research Interests

For the past twenty years I have been working, teaching and researching in the field of public health within the NHS and higher education institutions. My research concentrates on mental health inequalities and their social determinants. The programme of empirical study I am developing aims to understand why and how social inequality and marginalisation influence mental health and wellbeing, and the policies and interventions required to promote the mental health of disadvantaged population groups.

My work aims to move the frame of inquiry beyond well-rehearsed psychiatric, individual explanations, instead considering the social, economic and cultural factors which underpin emotional distress. Central to my intellectual concerns are the emotions or affects that arise from particular constructions of marginalised and disadvantaged subjectivities and identities within specific social, economic and cultural circumstances. My research is interdisciplinary and draws upon sociology, public health, social psychology, queer and feminist theory. My approach pays attention to the intersections of class, sexuality, gender and age and envisages these as discursive, cultural, material and embodied, and patterns of resistance and regulation at this juncture are understood at an individual and institutional level.

My current empirical work aims to understand why young people with marginalised sexualities and genders have elevated rates of suicide and self-harm. This is part of an on-going interdisciplinary European collaboration between myself and the Dept. of Psychology, University of Oslo. The research collaboration has been successful in attracting funding on a number of occasions and has culminated in a forthcoming book ‘Queer Youth and Self Harm: Psychosocial Perspectives’ (2014). In addition, I am the lead applicant (with the University of York) of a Department of Health mixed method research grant investigating LGBT young people, suicide, self-harm and help seeking. This is the first national study of this vulnerable population group and the project aims to provide evidence to support the National Suicide Prevention Strategy and interventions which aim to reduce suicide.

I have a long-standing commitment to developing critical qualitative research methodologies to investigate health (although I have used a wide variety of methodologies). At the centre of this work is an epistemological concern with how we generate knowledge on social disadvantage and marginalisation. This has ranged from a critique of qualitative interviewing practice which privileges linguistic capital (McDermott, 2004), through to my recent innovations utilizing online qualitative methodologies to research youth suicide (McDermott, 2010, McDermott & Roen, 2012, McDermott et al., 2013). As result of the consultancy I conducted for the Equality and Human Rights Commission on asking young people questions about sexual orientation, I am writing a book chapter that argues that we are witnessing a shift in the politics of knowledge production on sexuality.


  • –present
    Senior Lecturer in Health Research, Lancaster University