Last Updated: 2 Apr 2013
Dr Christabel Owens, BEd (Hons), MA, PhD
Senior Research Fellow
Based: Veysey Building, Salmon Pool Lane, Exeter, EX2 4SG
Christabel is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Exeter Medical School.
She has been conducting mental health research since 1997, specialising in suicide and self-harm. Drawing on a background in the social sciences and philosophy, she works outside the dominant medico-psychiatric paradigm, trying to understand both suicide and self-harm from the lay point of view.
In the field of suicide, her particular focus is on those who are not in contact with mental health services at the time of their death, a group that makes up 75% of all suicides and poses the greatest challenge in terms of prevention. Christabel and colleagues carried out the first UK study of this population. She then went on to pioneer the use of qualitative methods to analyse data from psychological autopsy studies, in order to explore the meanings that bereaved relatives attach to the act of suicide and their views on how it might have been prevented. More recently, she has been leading an MRC-funded programme of work on Public Involvement in Suicide Prevention, which aims to strengthen the capacity of lay people (as opposed to health professionals) to recognise and respond to a suicidal crisis.
She also leads the field in relation to prevention of suicides in public places. She authored the Guidance on action to be taken at suicide hotspots, published in 2006 by the National Institute for Mental Health in England (NIMHE). Being the first such guidance of its kind, this aroused considerable interest around the world and resulted in invitations to speak at a number of international conferences. Since 2006, the guidance has been translated into Japanese, has been adapted for use in the Scottish context, and used as a model for the development of similar guidance in Australia. Christabel is regularly contacted by agencies from around the world for advice on the identification and management of high-risk locations.
Christabel has also led a number of innovative projects involving information & communication technologies, including the use of text-messaging to support people who self-harm and an online discussion forum to facilitate communication and collaborative learning between health professionals and young people who self-harm.
She works closely with many lay and voluntary groups concerned with suicide prevention and aftercare, including PAPYRUS, SANE, the National Self-Harm Network and Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SoBS), and is scientific advisor to The Alliance of Suicide Prevention Charities (TASC-UK).
Public Information to Prevent Suicides (PIPS). Funder: NHS Devon
Positive clinical encounters between health professionals and young people who self-harm. Funder: Mental Health Research Network
A new focus for suicide prevention: Harnessing personal experience. Funder: BIG Lottery, subcontract via SANE
Is collection of suicide audit data at PCT level effective in informing local action to prevent suicides? Funder: PenCLAHRC
Development and feasibility of a text-messaging intervention to support children and adolescents who self-harm (TeenTEXT). Funder: PenCLAHRC
Acknowledging and responding to early signs of dementia in the family and social network: qualitative study and intervention development. Funder: PenCLAHRC PhD Studentship
Process and outcomes of patient and public involvement in health research: a natural experiment conducted through PenCLAHRC. Funder: PenCLAHRC PhD Studentship
Collaborative learning on the web: the role of online communities in public and professional health education. An exploration based on self-harm (SharpTalk). Funder: National Institute for Health Research, Research for Innovation, Speculation and Creativity (RISC)
The use of SMS text-messaging to reduce repetition of self harm. Funder: National Institute for Health Research, Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB)
Care for offenders: Continuity of access (COCOA). Funder: National Institute for Health Research, Service Delivery and Organisation (SDO)
Public involvement in suicide prevention: Understanding and strengthening lay responses to distress (PUBLIS). Funder: Medical Research Council
Development of national guidance on action to be taken at suicide hotspots. Funder: National Institute for Mental Health in England (NIMHE)
Service User and Carer Involvement in Mental Health Care Planning: Bridges and Barriers. Funder: Peninsula Medical School PhD studentship
Service User and Carer Involvement in Mental Health Care Planning: Bridges and Barriers (Pilot study). Funder: Folk.Us
Lay understandings of suicide, its aetiology and preventability. Funder: NHS Executive SW Region
An ethnographic study of a residential community for people with severe and long-term mental health problems. Funder: The Community of St Antony and St Elias
Suicides not in contact with mental health services: a case-controlled psychological autopsy study. Funder: NHS Executive SW Region
Owen G, Belam J, Lambert H, Donovan J, Rapport F, Owens C (2012). Suicide Communication Events: Lay interpretation of the communication of suicidal ideation and intent. Social Science & Medicine (In press).
Owens, C, Lambert H (2012). Mad, Bad or Heroic? Gender, Identity and Accountability in Lay Portrayals of Suicide in Late Twentieth-Century England. Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry, 21 March, 10.1007/s11013-012-9259-x [online ahead of print].
Owens C, Owen G, Belam J, Rapport F, Lloyd K, Donovan J, Lambert H (2011). Recognising and responding to a suicidal crisis in the family and social network: qualitative study. BMJ Oct 18; 343: d5801. doi: 10.1136/bmj.d5801.
Sharkey S, Jones R, Smithson J, Hewis E, Emmens T, Ford T, Owens C (2011). Ethical practice in Internet research involving vulnerable people: Lessons from a self-harm discussion forum study (SharpTalk). Journal of Medical Ethics, September 24, 10.1136/medethics-2011-100080 [online ahead of print].
Jones R, Sharkey S, Smithson J, Ford T, Emmens T, Hewis E, Owens C (2011). Online discussion forums for young people who self-harm: user views. The Psychiatrist, 35(10), 364-368.
Smithson J, Sharkey S, Jones R, Ford T, Emmens T, Hewis E, Owens C (2011). Membership and Boundary Maintenance on an Online Self-harm Forum. Qualitative Health Research, 21(11):1567-75. Epub 2011 Jun 29.
Smithson J, Sharkey S, Jones R, Ford T, Emmens T, Hewis E, Owens C (2011). Problem presentation and responses in an online forum for young people who self-harm. Discourse Studies, 13(4), 487 - 501.
Jones R, Sharkey S, Smithson J, Ford T, Emmens T, Hewis E, Owens C. (2011) Using Metrics to Describe the Participative Stances of Members Within Discussion Forums. J Med Internet Res, 13(1):e3 HTML
Owens C, Sharkey S (2010). Safety and privacy in online research with young people who self-harm. In: P Alderson & V Morrow (Eds), The ethics of research with children and young people: a practical handbook. London; Sage, 2011.
Owens C (2010). Interventions for self-harm: are we measuring outcomes in the most appropriate way? British Journal of Psychiatry, 197: 502-3.
Owens C, Farrand P, Darvill R, Emmens T, Hewis E, Aitken P (2010). Involving service users in intervention design: a participatory approach to developing a text-messaging intervention to reduce repetition of self-harm. Health Expectations, 14(3): 285–295.
Owens C, Owen G, Lambert H, Donovan J, Belam J, Rapport F, Lloyd K (2009). Public involvement in suicide prevention: understanding and strengthening lay responses to distress. BMC Public Health, 9:308
Owens C, Lloyd-Tomlins S, Emmens T, Aitken P (2009). Suicides in public places: findings from one English county. European Journal of Public Health, 19(6): 580-2.
Owens C, Ley A, Aitken P (2008). Do different stakeholder groups share mental health research priorities? A four-arm Delphi study. Health Expectations, 11, 418-431.
Owens C, Lambert H, Lloyd KR, Donovan J (2008). Tales of biographical disintegration: How parents make sense of their sons’ suicides. Sociology of Health and Illness, 30(2), 237-254.
Howerton A, Byng R, Campbell J, Hess D, Owens C, Aitken P (2007). Understanding help-seeking behaviour among male offenders: qualitative interview study. BMJ, 334, 303-306.
Owens C, Aitken P (2006). Inter-agency planning to identify and manage suicide hotspots. Psychiatrica Danubina, 18, 112
(Principal author) National Institute for Mental Health in England. Guidance on action to be taken at suicide hotspots. Leeds: National Institute for Mental Health in England, 2006. Translated into Japanese 2007.
Owens C, Lambert H, Donovan J, Lloyd K (2005). A qualitative study of help seeking and primary care consultation prior to suicide. British Journal of General Practice, 55, 503-509.
Hounsell J, Owens C (2005). User researchers in control: rhetoric and reality of user-led research. Mental Health Today, May, 29-32.
Owens C (2004). The glass-walled asylum: a description of a lay residential community for the severely mentally ill. Journal of Mental Health, 13(3), 319-332.
Owens C, Lloyd KR, Campbell J (2004). Access to health care prior to suicide: findings from a psychological autopsy study. British Journal of General Practice, 54, 279-281.
Owens C, Booth N, Briscoe M, Lawrence C, Lloyd K (2003). Suicide outside the care of mental health services: a case-controlled psychological autopsy study. Crisis, 24(3), 113-121.
Booth N & Owens C (2000). Silent suicide: suicide among people not in contact with mental health services. International Review of Psychiatry, 12, 27-30.
Owens C, Goble R, Pereira Gray, D (1999). Involvement in multi-professional continuing education: a survey of 24 health care professions. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 13(3), 277-288.