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Narrative for knowledge translation: The use of storytelling to increase mental health literacy in elite sport. (REF: RDF22/HLS/SER/PARTINGTON)

   Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

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  Dr S Partington  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The 2021 summer Olympics were memorable not just for remarkable sporting performances, but for the mental health stories of two high profile athletes - gymnast Simone Biles and tennis player Naomi Osaka. These athletes’ stories highlighted the need to better understand and support mental health in the elite sport environment and were impactful in terms of prompting other elite athletes to share their own mental health experiences.

Despite the increasing attention being paid to mental health issues in elite sport, the mental health of athletes is still a major concern. In particular, athletes and their support staff lack ‘mental health literacy.’ Mental health literacy encompasses a range of competencies including the following: Having appropriate knowledge of effective self-management strategies, the ability to challenge mental disorder stigma, awareness of mental health first-aid, being able to assist others, and being able to effectively engage in help seeking behaviours (Gorczynski et al., 2019; Gorczynski et al., 2020).

When developing interventions to enhance mental health literacy, Kutcher et al., (2016) state that mental health information needs to be delivered in ways that are developmentally appropriate, culturally contextualised, and meaningful to the recipients. One approach with the potential to address all these criteria is narrative inquiry. Narrative inquiry is a psychosocial approach that focuses on the role of stories and storytelling in the way people learn about and make sense of their selves, their experiences, and their lives (Smith et al., 2015). To date there are no narrative inquiry-based interventions to address mental health literacy in sport. This PhD project aims to be the first to develop a narrative inquiry-based mental health literacy intervention for elite athletes and their support staff.

We are looking for a candidate who has an interest in elite sport and in the creation and telling of sporting stories to promote mental health literacy. Students from a variety of backgrounds including sport psychology, psychology, sociology, creative writing, and media are invited to apply. The successful candidate will work collaboratively with elite athletes, their support staff and creative writing experts to create, disseminate, and evaluate contextualised, culturally competent, mental health stories that can be used to improve mental health literacy in elite sport. Story creation will be guided by previous literature around sporting mental health, literature on narrative inquiry and its use for knowledge translation (Smith et al., 2015) and creative writing techniques.

The supervisory team is made up of a mix of sport psychologists (Dr. Sarah Partington & Dr. Liz Partington) sport sociologists (Dr. Andrea Scott-Bell) and creative writing specialists (Professor Katy Shaw). Across the team we have expertise in athlete mental health, the context of elite sport, medical ethics in sport, narrative theory, and the mechanics of story production and telling. In addition to academic experts, we also have the support of New Writing North, the premier development agency for writing in the North of England, as well as links to National Governing Bodies of Sport.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see 

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Informal enquiries to Dr Sarah Partington ([Email Address Removed]).

Funding Notes

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees. UK and international (including EU) candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,365 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please also read the full funding notes which include advice for international and part-time applicants.


Partington, S., Partington, E., & Olivier, S. (2009). The dark side of flow: A qualitative study of dependence in big wave surfing. The Sport Psychologist, 23(2), 170-185.
Partington, E., Partington, S., Fishwick, L., & Allin, L. (2005). Mid-life nuances and negotiations: narrative maps and the social construction of mid-life in sport and physical activity. Sport, Education and Society, 10(1), 85-99.
Sparkes, A., Brown, D., & Partington, E. (2010) The “Jock Body” and the social construction of space: The performance and positioning of cultural identity. Space and Culture, 13, 333-347.
Sparkes, A.C., and Partington S., (2003). Narrative Practice and its Potential Contribution to Sport Psychology: The Example of Flow. The Sport Psychologist, 17 (3), 292-317.
Shaw, K. (2018). Reflective medical narratives and the rise of the medimoir. Humanities, 7, 4.
Sparkes, A.C., Partington, E., & Brown, D.H.K. (2007). Bodies as bearers as value: The transmission of jock culture via the ‘Twelve Commandments.’ Sport, Education and Society, 12(3), 295-316.
Waddington, I., Scott-Bell, A., & Malcolm, D. (2019). The social management of medical ethics in sport: Confidentiality in English professional football. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 54, 6y, 649-665
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