Department of Psychology

Research student insight

Hannah Heath


Hannah Heath

  • Department of Psychology
  • First supervisor: Dr Jeff Gavin
  • Second supervisor: Dr Karen Rodham
  • Research title: An investigation into how self-harm is made sense of within a friendship

Hannah joins us from Keele University, where she completed both her BSc Criminology and Psychology, and MSc Psychology of Health and Wellbeing.

She is now researching in the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath the relationship between self-harm and friendships, a topic that has interested her since her school days.

Developing an interest in researching self-harm

Since being in high school I have known people who have self-harmed, and was surprised at how prevalent it was and how much of a global impact it can have.

She previously conducted independent research as part of her undergraduate degree where she first looked at how self-harm was perceived by the general public and how those who self-harmed talked about their experiences online.

This made me realise just how diverse opinions were, and in my master’s dissertation I further explored the experiences of student medical students and also discursively analysed clinical guidelines, such as DSM and NICE, to ascertain the prevailing medical discourses.

She decided early on in her master’s that she wanted to pursue this line of research as part of a PhD, and was initially interested in how people constructed self-harm.

Having researched the subject further, it became evident that the friends of those who self-harm are both relatively under-researched and an incredibly at-risk group. I believe this group would benefit from further research.

Sensitive topics

Researching a sensitive area such as self-harm has brought its own challenges.

This work has required me to negotiate between exploring people’s experiences whilst being aware and mindful of potential risks to those willing to participate. As such, I have aimed to ensure that all of my participants have felt safe and comfortable throughout the interviews and focus groups.

Research findings

Hannah is currently working on a series of focus groups that aim to explore the experiences and beliefs about how self-harm impacts on friendship.

So far her research has highlighted a number of findings.

My research has indicated that having a friend who self-harms causes the friendship to be redefined, in order to accommodate the self-harm.

She has found that this often means that the friendship that was established prior to the disclosure of the self-harm is altered, repositioning the friend in a new caring position.

These findings will further the understanding of this at-risk group and help the development of appropriate support and guidance materials which are designed specifically for them.

I think the most rewarding aspect of this conducting this research is getting feedback from those both within and outside of my research area who are reporting the importance of conducting research in this area. It highlights to me that the research that is being conducted is going to be of some practical use.

Studying at the University of Bath

Hannah has taken part in many of the research skills training events at the University, such as how to conduct research into ethically sensitive areas and the ethics of research. She has also attended and presented in the Critical Research in Social Psychology group, as well as the course research forums.

I have really positive relationships with my supervisors, their constant support, guidance and advice with my work has been invaluable. I would not have been able to develop my findings and direction without their specific experience, insight and expertise in the area.

She has also been involved more widely at the University by being a first year Staff Student Liaison Committee representative for the programme, as well as working as a part-time research assistant for a project looking at how those with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome utilise online support networks.

Future plans

So far Hannah’s work has been accepted by two international conferences, the International Society for the Study of Self-injury, and the European Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies.

She has also presented her work at the National PsyPag conference last year and subsequently received a very complimentary write-up in the Psychologist magazine.

Having the quality of my research recognised by international and national audiences is a great honour.

Hannah will continue conducting the last of her studies for her PhD, and will then look to present her findings to a more diverse audience in order to build connections to broaden her and others’ research.

Further information

To find out more about Hannah’s research, you can contact her by email:

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