Professor discusses how we should understand mental health in inaugural lecture

The College of Social Sciences were delighted to welcome over 60 guests to the inaugural lecture of Professor Jerry Tew, Professor of Mental Health and Social Work. Taking place on Wednesday 3 May, the talk discussed the current disease model used in mental health treatment, and a shift to a more context-based approach.

Professor Tew was introduced by Professor Saul Becker, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Social Sciences. Professor Becker spoke about Professor Tew’s time at the University of Cambridge before embarking on a social work career, which lasted over 20 years. He studied his doctorate part time at the University of Warwick, before moving full time into social work education at the age of 40.

The lecture started with a look at the history of mental health, including the idea of possession and concepts such as hysteria and lunacy, which dominated until the early 20th century in the West. Over the course of an hour, Professor Tew posed a series of questions: is the current account of mental illness historically and culturally specific? How can survivor perspectives challenge the prevailing viewpoint, which removes the agency of those with mental health conditions and portrays them as victims? Does the disease model affect how we see people – and how they see themselves?

He then moved on to advocate for a new, radical approach; a move from DISease to UNease, a definition of active discomfort, which takes into account the context of the individual. Professor Tew suggests a move to an integral approach to care, bringing together medical professionals, social care services and personal support networks to address the underlying social causes of mental illness.

Professor Jon Glasby, Head of the School of Social Policy, closed the event, before audience and speaker mixed in a drinks reception.