Shortlist announced for 2020 Medical Humanities Awards

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The diverse list celebrates the range of research using arts and humanities methodologies to tackle medical challenges, from antimicrobial resistance to mental health.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) – in association with the Wellcome Trust – has announced the 2020 shortlist for the Medical Humanities Awards.

The list showcases the best research taking place at the interface of the arts and humanities and medicine and celebrates its positive impact on medical outcomes.

Projects included a range from those exploring how music can improve wellbeing to new ways to help intensive care survivors recover successfully.

Rewarding excellence

The Medical Humanities Awards exist to recognise the achievements of people and projects helping to understand and transform the quality of life, health and wellbeing of the population using arts and humanities research.

They celebrate and showcase the important but unsung work being done by academics, health professionals, voluntary organisations and communities.

The aim is to encourage further multidisciplinary work that brings together the arts and humanities, healthcare, health and wellbeing.

Creative range

Awards are available across five different categories:

  • best early career research
  • best international research
  • best research
  • best community led project
  • outstanding leadership.

Projects shortlisted must be inclusive of viewpoints and contributions from within and beyond medicine, while valuing the experience, knowledge and participation of the public.

They must explore diverse approaches to achieving, maintaining or recovering quality of life, strive for demonstrable impacts, and provided new evidence and insights.

Music and motherhood

For example, Dr Rosie Perkins’ work, shortlisted for the Best Research award, explored the effectiveness of creative interventions – including singing – as a way to help women suffering from post-natal depression (PND).

PND is thought to affect at least 13% of new mothers, with symptoms including persistent low mood, fatigue, insomnia, feelings of guilt or hopelessness, and anxiety about the baby.

The project found that mothers who took part in 10-week singing classes with their baby had a significantly faster improvement in symptoms than mothers having their normal care.

Weight of expectation

Elsewhere Dr Oli Williams’ work – shortlisted for Best Early Career research – has revealed how the stigma of obesity actually triggered psychosomatic stress similar to feeling embarrassed.

Working with weight-loss groups in one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in England he was able to demonstrate how obesity stigma confused people’s experience of their bodies and made them feel worse.

These findings helped deepen understanding of the lived experience of being overweight, as well as why stigma is an inappropriate – and ineffective – means of promoting healthy weight-loss.

Professor Edward Harcourt, Director of Research, Strategy and Innovation at AHRC, said:

The medical humanities are not just about looking at health from an arts and humanities perspective. Some of these are projects that actually make people better – or stop them getting ill in the first place.

We saw this during the COVID-19 lockdown when people around the world sought solace in singing, dancing and performing. The arts and humanities are major forces in keeping people well, connecting them socially and restoring them to good health.

Medicine has always been about whole human beings, so it is no surprise that in order to think clearly about health, we need the arts and humanities as well as the sciences.

Dr Dan O’Connor, Head of Humanities & Social Science at Wellcome, said:

Wellcome supports a range of discovery research projects into life, health and wellbeing as an essential part of the health research landscape. The projects and people shortlisted for the Medical Humanities Awards show how improving our understanding of health in its social and cultural contexts is an integral part of that work.

The medical humanities give us new insights into experiences of health and illness, whether they are related to emerging challenges such as COVID-19 or to enduring questions about what it means to be human. The projects showcased here reflect the diversity and the complexity of healthcare and wellbeing across a range of settings. Such research is as important today as it has ever been.

The 2020 Medical Humanities Awards shortlist in full

Best ECR

  • Joanne McPeake, University of Glasgow: Intensive Care Syndrome: Promoting Independence and Return to Employment (InS:PIRE)
  • Michael Wilde, University of Kent: Improving evidence evaluation in medicine
  • Claas Kirchhelle, University of Oxford Pyrrhic Progress: The Global History of Antibiotics and AMR
  • Bee Hughes, Liverpool John Moores University: Performing Periods: Challenging Menstrual Normativity through Art Practice
  • Oli Williams, Kings College London: The Weight of Expectation: how stigma gets under the skin and is bad for our health
  • Emily Cock, University of Cardiff: Fragile Faces: Disfigurement in Britain and its Colonies (1600–1850)

Best International

  • Selina Busby, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama: Worli Koliwada: My Neighbourhood, my responsibility
  • Lisa Shaw, University of Liverpool: Cinema, Memory and Wellbeing: promoting the wellbeing benefits of film-related reminiscence for marginalised over-65s and those living with dementia in Brazil
  • Sarah Hodges, University of Warwick: What’s at stake in the fake? Indian pharmaceuticals, African markets and global health, and Biotrash: The economic afterlives of medical garbage
  • Abir Hamdar, University of Durham: Performing Arab Cancer
  • Dora Vargha, University of Exeter: Polio across the Iron Curtain

Best Research

  • Hearing the Voice
  • Rosie Perkins, Royal College of Music: Music and Motherhood
  • Lauren Kassell, University of Cambridge: Casebooks Project
  • Jon Williamson, University of Kent: Evaluating evidence in medicine
  • Matthew Smith, University of Strathclyde: An Ounce of Prevention: A History of Social Psychiatry in the USA, 1939-Present
  • Christos Lynteris, University of St Andrews: Visual Representations of the Third Plague Pandemic

Best Community Research

  • Maria Fusco, University of Dundee: ECZEMA!
  • Laura Godfrey-Isaacs: Maternal Journal
  • Dr Ellie Chadwick: Ergo Sum
  • Laura Drysdale: Change Minds, archives for mental health

Leadership award

  • Lauren Kassell, University of Cambridge
  • James Mills, University of Strathclyde
  • Nicola Shaughnessy, University of Kent
  • Victoria Bates, University of Bristol
  • David Turner, University of Swansea

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