York St John University
The Bridge
 May 2009
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Bridging the gap between research and practice

Welcome to the latest edition of the Research Centre for Occupation & Mental Health’s e-bulletin, The Bridge. We hope you are finding our new spotlight on research useful.

If you have read a relevant research paper recently why not let us know and we could include it in a future edition? Contact us at RCOMH@yorksj.ac.uk.

Early stages in the development of a research programme for occupation and older people’s mental health
A group of enthusiastic researchers interested in occupation and older people’s mental health met on 8 May 2009 at York St John University to discuss possible plans for a proposal for the development of a research programme in this area.

The meeting began with an overview of RCOMH’s mission and activities presented by Dr Katrina Bannigan, Director of RCOMH. The group spent time sharing previous research experience before exploring potential areas for collaborative research. Four main research areas emerged:

  • Social inclusion, occupational engagement and mental health
  • Mental health problems secondary to physical disability and / or sensory impairment
  • Older people and Spirituality
  • Evaluation and assessment of occupational engagement of older people with mental health problems

A number of research questions were identified in each area, demonstrating the value of having a research programme. A draft proposal is now planned for a research programme for occupation and older people’s mental health and this will be submitted to the next RCOMH steering group meeting. In addition to the people attending, several other researchers have expressed interest in this research programme and they will be invited to contribute to the wording of the proposal.

University of Sheffield Research Fellow (Fixed-Term) vacancy

Please circulate this to any occupational therapist researchers who may be interested. It's a rare opportunity.  Working for Prof Gail Mountain and colleagues.  Salary £36,532 - £43.622 per annum. For more details see

Please circulate this to any researchers who may be interested. It is a chance to work as a research fellow in the School of Health & Social Care. Salary up to £37,651. Temporary for 3 years
For more details see
Congratulations go to Clair Le Boutillier (Clinical Specialist Vocational Occupational Therapist) from the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust who is involved in the RCOMH Work, mental health and well being research programme. Claire has been appointed as a research worker on the REFOCUS Study at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London. The study is led by Dr Mike Slade and aims to develop an evidence base to make recovery a reality in mental health services. The study is organised around the latest MRC Framework for Evaluating Complex Interventions and will involve the development of recovery-focused quality standards, fidelity measure and outcome measures, manualised interventions and randomized control trial evidence. Clair's role will involve undertaking a PhD related to the study.   

Clair Le Boutillier

Spotlight on research
This month's article is reviewed by Alison Bullock, an occupational therapist from Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust.  The study focuses on caring for pets as a meaningful community occupation. It explores the influence of pet ownership on the occupational lives and community connections of a population with serious mental illness. A convenience sampling method was used to compare the characteristics and motivations of 204 users of assertive outreach services in relation to pet ownership. Further comparison of 59 users who gave informed consent and completed a survey questionnaire took place in relation to socio demographic characteristics, motivations for and against pet ownership and the number and type of pets lived with and desired. It also tested the hypotheses that pet ownership would help this population engage more in meaningful activities (using the EMAS scale) and demonstrate better physical, social and psychological community integration. A response bias towards pet owners was found with 55.5% of pet owners responding, and only 26.1% of non-pet owners.

Statistical analysis of the ordinal and categorical data found that this client group has much lower pet ownership than the corresponding general population, but that the most common motivations for pet ownerships were “companionship” and “someone to love” (the same as for the North American population). Cost and accommodation rules were the most common reason for non-ownership, and of the 38 non-pet owners 63.2% expressed a desire to own a pet.

No significant differences were found between the two groups for: hospital days; hospital admissions; frequency of contact with the Assertive Outreach team; most frequently reported stressors; socio demographic variables between the two groups (other than gender) and physical community integration. However significant differences were found in the following areas: diagnosis (79.5% of those with a schizophrenia diagnosis did not own pets, 44.5% of those with a diagnosis of mood disorders did not own pets); GAF scores (with pet owners having higher global functioning p< .05); gender (women were more likely to be pet owners than men); engagement in meaningful activity (pet owners had increased engagement p< .05); psychological community integration (pet owners had increased integration p< 0.05) and social community integration (pet owners had increased integration p< 0.01).

Key areas of concern with the study centre around: the reliability, validity and sensitivity of some of the tools used; potential bias of staff members in completing GAF scores and their influence on study recruitment; and the non-experimental design with relatively small numbers of participants for some parts of the study which limits interpretation.

The results suggest that OTs and other workers should actively discuss pet ownership as meaningful and therapeutic occupation with this client group and highlight it as a potential focus for future research including further examination of the relationship between hospital admission and owning a pet.

If you would like to read this paper the full reference is:

Zimolag, U., & Krupa, T. (2009). Pet ownership as a meaningful community occupation for people with serious mental illness. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 63, 126–137.

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