13th Annual Critical Perspectives in Mental Health Conference

10th November 2021


 The experience of the Covid-19 pandemic is relevant to this year’s conference theme with issues of safety featuring in all our lives in different ways. Within this context, it is important to remain critical and not to lose sight of concerns that continue to be expressed about mental health systems not providing safe spaces for people in intense distress. Indeed, it is often the opposite, with people referring to experiences of de-humanisation, coercion and re-traumatisation. Acknowledging such concerns, this conference, now in its 13th year, focuses on the importance of developing and providing safe spaces for people experiencing distress. The conference offers opportunities to examine: 


  • what we understand by safe spaces in mental health systems 
  • what makes it so difficult to offer safe spaces 
  • the increasing use of coercion and forced treatment to try and maintain people’s ‘safety’ 
  • what safe spaces may look like and how these may be experienced by people in distress 
  • ways to support people in intense distress in spaces where they feel safe and respected 

Video Presentations of Conference 2021

Creating Safe Spaces in Mental Health Systems: Critical Perspectives

Welcome to the Conference – Lydia Sapouna and Harry Gijbels

Keynote Presentations

A beacon for medication free treatment – background and experiences. Ole Andreas Underland, Founder and CEO of the Recovery Academy; Siv Helen Rydheim, author, survivor and a former activist.

No safe space: a personal perspective on why medicalising human distress further traumatises people, families and communities. Jennifer Hough, research and policy officer, Alcohol Action Ireland.

Sanctuary: Safe Spaces to Share Taboo Experiences. Jacqui Dillon, activist, author, and speaker, England.

Concurrent Sessions

Claiming Safe Spaces: Healing and Social Change through Intentional Peer Relationships. Lisa Archibald, Coordinator and Trainer, Intentional Peer Support; Liz Brosnan, Area Lead, Mental Health Engagement and Recovery Office, Health Service Executive, CH07, Dublin. Ireland.

Keeping nature in mind for better mental health. Michaela Mc Daid, Ecotherapy, Donegal, Ireland.

Insights around safe spaces from within and outside the mental health system. Dr Bryan McElroy, General Practitioner. 

The Drayton Park Model: Drayton Park Women’s Crisis House and Resource Centre. Shirley McNicholas, Women’s Lead /Trauma Informed Lead and Team Manager of DP Women’s Crisis House Drayton Park, London, England

Art making v schizophrenia: channelling the latent power of magical thinking. Molly O’Leary, singer, writer and poet, Dublin, Ireland.

The price of ‘safety’? Ambivalence in mental health service user interview accounts of involuntary hospitalisation (‘sectioning’) in England. Konstantina (Dina) Poursanidou, independent Service User Researcher in mental health; Jill Hemmington, Senior Lecturer and course leader, University of Central Lancashire, England.

Sanctuary within ourselves. Feargus Callagy, Peer Support Worker, Health Service Executive, Mayo, Health & Wellness coach, Freedive instructor, Samaritan listener, Ireland.

An evaluation of a training seminar on Domestic Violence advocacy intervention for staff in an Approved Centre in Ireland. Aidan Cooney, Senior Medical Social Worker, Ireland.

A collaborative peer led approach to creating open safe spaces. Sharon Ferguson, Peer Lead, Donegal Wellness Cafés; Noreen McLaughlin and Marie Duffy, Wellness Café Facilitators, Donegal, Ireland

Co-creating Safe Spaces in Mental Health Systems. Jackie Furlong, Maria Burke and Patricia Barret,  C0-creational Parent and Relationship Mentors. 

A right of conscientious objection to forced ‘treatment’. Dr Jonathan Gadsby, research fellow for Mental Health Nursing, Birmingham City University, England; Mick McKeown, Professor of Democratic Mental Health, School of Nursing, University of Central Lancashire, England. .

Creating an Asylum of ideas- the work of Asylum Magazine in creating a space for service users. Dr Sonia Soans, critical psychologist, independent researcher and lecturer. 

Plenary Session

Towards safe spaces: keynote presenters, Lydia Sapouna and Harry Gijbels

Conference Organisers

Lydia Sapouna, School of Applied Social Studies and Harry Gijbels, School of Nursing and Midwifery (retired).

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