Funded (UK/EU and international students)

Project code



School of Film, Media, and Communication

Start dates

October 2023

Application deadline

6 April 2023

Applications are invited for a funded PhD to commence in October 2023. 

The PhD will be based in the School of Film, Media and Communication and will be supervised by Dr Stephen Harper (School of Film, Media and Communication) and Dr Sandra Walker (School of Health and Care Professions).  

Candidates applying for this project may be eligible to compete for one of a small number of bursaries available. Successful applicants will receive a bursary to cover tuition fees for three years and a stipend in line with the UKRI rate (£17,668 for 2022/23). Bursary recipients will also receive a contribution of £1,500 per annum towards consumables, conference, project or training costs. 


The work on this project will:

  • Evaluate the current state of screen images of mental distress in the UK
  • Explore the intersections between screen representations of mental distress and non-diagnostic frameworks of psychological understanding 
  • Create a toolkit of recommendations and critical resources to be used by media professionals and/or other cultural creatives
  • Depending on your ideas and competencies, there is a possibility of including a film/media practice element in this project

This PhD research project will explore contemporary screen images of mental distress in Britain. The earliest substantial scholarship on the screen mediation of mental distress tended to focus on the question of misrepresentation, especially in relation to violent media imagery (Wahl 1995; Philo et al. 1996). Later work in the same field questioned some of the assumptions underlying this focus and introduced a broader set of concerns, such as the importance of considering discriminations of class, race and gender and the determining role of genre in media representations of madness (Harper, 2009; Cross 2010). In recent years the critical concern among screen media scholars with the diversity and intersectionality of cultural images of distress has intensified (Smith-Frigerio 2017; O’Sullivan 2021). Nevertheless, film and media scholarship in this area mostly remains committed, explicitly or implicitly, to a biologistic illness model that is increasingly being challenged by advocates of patient-centred, non-diagnostic and non-pathologizing paradigms. This is unfortunate, as there are clear parallels between the emphasis on self-generated meaning and narrativization that is fundamental to many emergent treatment approaches and the storytelling strategies adopted by the participants featured in the growing number of television and other screen productions addressing psychological suffering.


Working with supervisors and consulting with relevant outside organisations, you will undertake a critical analysis of contemporary screen images (fictional or factual) of mental distress in the UK. You will focus on the relationship between screen representations and the changing understandings of psychological distress reflected in relatively new treatment approaches such as the Power Threat Meaning Framework (Johnstone and Boyle 2018), Open Dialogue, trauma-informed and narrative therapy approaches.



Cross, S. (2010) Mediating Madness: mental distress and cultural representation. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Harper, S. (2009) Madness, Power and the Media: Class, gender and race in public images of mental distress. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Johnston, L. and Boyle, M. (2018) The Power Threat Meaning Framework: An alternative nondiagnostic conceptual system. Journal of Humanistic Psychology.

O’Sullivan, S. (2021) Bipolar and Shameless: Showtime's portrayal of living and working with bipolar disorder. In Johnson, M. and Olson, C. J. (eds) Normalizing Mental Illness and Neurodiversity in Entertainment Media: Quieting the madness. London: Routledge.

Philo, G. (ed) (1996) Media and Mental Distress. London and New York: Longman.

Smith-Frigerio, S. (2017) Intersectionality of Race, Class and Gender: The complex representation of bipolar disorder on Fox Network's Empire. Howard Journal of Communications 29.4: 387–402.

Wahl, O. (1995) Media Madness: Public Images of Mental Illness. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.



Entry requirements

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

How to apply

We’d encourage you to contact Dr Stepher Harper ( for further particulars and to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.
When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV.  Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process. 

Please also include a research proposal of no more than 2000 words. The proposal should include relevant up to date literature sources and provide some indication of an appropriate research methodology that could be applied to the project.

If you want to be considered for this funded PhD opportunity you must quote project code FM&C8040423 when applying.