The Health, Society and Medicine (HSM) Research Program focuses on exploring the intersections of social change, culture, medicine/psychiatry, disability, biotechnology, lived experiences of health and illness, informal care, and digital media and narrative in health communication. HSM is dedicated to understanding health and illness experiences in social context; supporting people’s active engagement in maintaining their health; and transforming care through influencing policy, practice and education. Our research draws on an inclusive methodology focused upon community involvement and participation. It includes national and international interdisciplinary partnerships with researchers from the critical social sciences, humanities, medicine, law, creative arts, and critical disability studies. We also engage with a wide range of industry partners in relevant cross-sector collaborations.

Aims

  • Explore how the economic, political, cultural and subjective aspects of social life, including emerging health technologies and social change, shape the experience of health, illness and care for people living in Australia and their communities.
  • Understand lived experience of health and illness, and of caring (informally or in a professional capacity) for those experiencing illness or disability, in order to contribute towards greater equity in health, more inclusive health and social care practices, and support for people to make informed decisions about their health and healthcare.
  • Inform and contribute to the efforts of informal carers, clinicians, social care practitioners and policymakers to build their capacity for effective interaction with health service users, and development of more equitable and better quality health and social care for all Australian residents.

These aims will be achieved through a range of knowledge translation co-design activities, utilising HSM’s long-established program research underpinning Healthtalk Australia (see below), a unique online audio-visual database of health and illness experiences and related resources.

Key research areas

Health & Illness, Mind & Body

This well-established body of work explores lived experiences of mental and physical health and illness beyond the physiological processes that are the focus of biomedical science. It has two major themes:

  • exploring subjective accounts of experiences which are often pathologized or stigmatized, including experiences of receiving psychiatric diagnoses and ‘addiction’.
  • exploring subjective accounts of experiences of living with long term physical illness or health-related conditions, including cancer and reproductive health, and associated emotional distress.

Narrative and phenomenological research approaches are used to investigate how uncertainties surrounding experiences of living with psychiatric diagnoses, disability, and long-term physical illness or health conditions impact on and change people’s values, habits, beliefs, relationships, bodies, sense of self, and their perception of the world, with the aim of improving public understandings of these experiences. Investigation of the experiences of informal carers and health and social care practitioners is an integral part of Health & Illness, Body & Mind research.

Projects within the Health & Illness, Mind & Body Key Research Area foster interdisciplinary and cross-sector collaborations as well as the participation of people with lived experiences of health and illness and informal carers.

Healthtalk Australia

Healthtalk Australia is a unique online repository of research-based health and illness experiences presented in an array of formats – film, audio and text. Individual research projects within the HSM Hub’s research themes underpin development of a series of online resources, each centred on a different health or illness experience. With the aim of supporting people experiencing illness and informal carers, educating health and social care practitioners, and informing policymakers, Healthtalk Australia’s online resources form a key plank of HSM’s research translation strategy.

As a member of DIPEX International (along with 18 other universities or research institutions across Asia, Europe, North America and the Middle East), Healthtalk Australia is part of an interdisciplinary, international collaboration of researchers utilising narrative methods to explore health and illness experiences to create publicly available online resources and contribute to scholarly debates on patient-centred perspectives on health and illness.

Ageing well in health and illness

Globally, life expectancy continues to rise. This research theme focuses on supporting the fundamental changes to health and social care systems required to address the needs of ageing populations, including these living with dementia. Work within the Ageing well in health and illness Key Research Area will explore how improvements to our physical and social environments and better use of technology can support better quality of life for older people, both in relation to and beyond the health sector. This is an emerging area of work for the HSM Research Program and we invite researchers interested in these topics to contact us to explore potential collaborations.

Projects

Emotional Experiences of Early Parenthood in Australian Families

An exploration of the emotional experiences of becoming a parent in Australia, from conception through to early parenthood, in all kinds of families.

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Online Alcohol and Other Drug Counselling Encounters & Experiences

Interdisciplinary research program exploring client experiences of online alcohol and other drug counselling

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The Intersection of Cancer & Culture: A Sociological Study

The purpose of this study is to examine what living with cancer means for individuals, communities and families from a migrant background

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Early Menopause: Perspectives of women and health professionals

A project exploring the experiences of women with early menopause and the perspectives of health professionals who care for women with this condition.

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Mental Health and Supported Decision Making: Lived Experience and Family Carers’ Stories

A research project investigating the lived experience of severe mental health problems and supported decision-making (SDM) from multiple perspectives.

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Key People

Lead researcher

Professor Renata Kokanovic

Professor Renata Kokanovic

Professor of Sociology of Health and Illness, Vice Chancellor's Senior Research Fellow

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Early Career Program Leaders

Higher Degree Research Students

Collaborators within RMIT

  • Prof Stuart Thomas
  • Dr Cameron Duff
  • Distinguished Professor Larissa Hjorth
  • Professor Tania Lewis
  • Nicholas Hill

Key Industry Partners

  • Victorian Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS)
  • Mind Australia
  • Wellways
  • Neami National
  • Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council,
  • Tandem Carers
  • beyondblue
  • National Breast Cancer Foundation
  • Monash Health
  • Women’s Health Victoria
  • Endocrine Society of Australia
  • Breast Cancer Network Australia
  • Healthdirect Australia
  • Australasian Menopause Society
  • Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital Foundation
  • Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital
  • Liverpool Hospital
  • South Eastern Sydney Local Health District

External Collaborators

  • Professor Helen Herrman
  • Professor Bernadette McSherry
  • Associate Professor Lisa Brophy
  • Dr Ana Dragojlovic
  • Professor Dan Lubman
  • Dr Adrian Carter
  • Dr Michael Savic
  • Dr Ella Dilkes-Frayne
  • Professor Alex Broom
  • Associate Professor Lorraine Smith
  • Dr Meredith Stone
  • Professor Carolyn Stevens
  • Associate Professor Paula Michaels
  • Professor Loretta Baldassar
  • Dr Emma Kirby
  • Dr Sophie Lewis
  • Professor Helena Teede
  • Associate Professor Amanda Vincent
  • Dr Jacqui Boyle
  • Professor Martha Hickey
  • Professor Damien Ridge
  • Professor Sue Ziebland
  • Dr Fauzia Knight      

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