School of Nursing


Helen Hamer

Pathway to postgraduate studies

Helen has had over 30 years of nursing practice in a variety of mental health settings. Helen’s Master’s thesis was prompted by her role as a liaison psychiatry nurse at North Shore Hospital and the topic was on panic disorder and non-cardiac chest pain. Helen graduated with 1st class honors in 2001. Since then her interests have moved towards recovery and social justice issues for people with enduring mental health problems.

Current work

'Mental health service users as citizens in the post-institutional era: Implications for nursing practice '

In the last 10 years Helen has worked alongside an experienced based expert and other users of services facilitating recovery competency training for mental health workers and running CBT-based groups for voice hearers. It was during this time that Helen began to hear concern by service users that the recovery philosophy had been ‘co-opted’ by professionals and no longer met their desire to be regarded as ‘citizens-like everyone else’. Helen decided to explore what citizenship really meant for service users and whether the recovery paradigm helps or hinders their journey towards the restoration of the full rights and responsibilities of being a citizen. Helen has explored the topic of citizenship with a qualitative approach using individual interviews with service users, government representatives, and a focus group of mental health nurses. Other sources of data were derived from strategic documents and service user narratives. Her findings point to the importance of being accepted, having the same rights and responsibilities as other citizens and a deeper sense of what it means to belong as a citizen. The notion of the ‘acts’ of citizenship and how service user have made their claims for justice was also an important finding. These finding s will have important implications for nursing practice, particularly how nurses (and other disciplines) safeguard and foster the rights and responsibilities of service users as citizens and political actors, rather than ‘patients’ and passive ‘subjects’ of care.

Helen was fortunate to be awarded a 3 year Senior Health Research Scholarship from the University of Auckland to study full-time from 2007 to March 2010, when she returned to her role as senior lecturer/nurse consultant in mental health nursing. Helen is due to submit her PhD in March 2011, and is exploring post-doctoral opportunities to conduct research on the promotion of service users as researchers, teachers and facilitators of mental health services.