Saskia Evans Perks

Saskia photo

Lived Experience Research Ambassador, South London and Maudsley  

I work as a Lived Experience Research Ambassador. I talk to service users about getting involved in research, how they can learn more about it in the Research Club, and have their voices heard through the Service User Research Advisory Group. 

What does research mean to you?  

As a teenager and young adult, I experienced anxiety, an eating disorder and was also diagnosed with epilepsy. I used mental health services, including those at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. During this time, I had the opportunity to take part in research that was happening at the Trust and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN).  I was a participant in lots of different studies, ranging from answering questionnaires to trying out new treatments. I got to try out an app for anxiety treatment and even a new EEG device to detect seizures.  

Taking part in research helped me make sense of the multiple conditions I was living with and the difficult experiences I was having. I felt that my conditions/diagnoses could be used in some positive way through my contribution and that my experiences were valued. It also gave me hope to learn about new developments in treatment and care and to meet the people that were working on these.   

Being a research participant also gave me confidence. I started attending some lectures at the IoPPN that were open to the public, which was a big deal for me as I had not been able to attend large events for a long time due to my anxiety. These experiences really got me interested in mental health research. Eventually I applied to study for a master’s degree in developmental psychology at the IoPPN.   

What attracted you to this role?  

After graduating I knew I wanted a career in mental health research, I found the role I am in now and thought it was such a great initiative. Taking part in research has been an important part of my recovery. Even if the studies did not benefit me directly, I knew that they would contribute to the improvement of treatment, care and services in the future for other people like me. The role of Lived Experience Research Ambassador is a great opportunity to be able to promote these benefits of research across the Trust and to make sure that all service users have the opportunity to take part in research, as I was able to.   

What does your role involve? Why do you feel it's important for service users to have opportunities to take part in research?  

I talk to service users about research opportunities at events such as the Research Roadshows, and run the Service User Research Advisory Group which ensures that service users’ experiences of research participation (or non-participation) are listened to and used to continuously improve research delivery and the experience of participants. I have helped develop the new ‘Take Part in Research’ website, which will allow service users and carers to have better access to the wide range of research we have going on at the Trust. 

I hope that my role will encourage more service users to get involved in research and increase inclusion of under-served groups in research at SLaM. It is vital that all service users have their voices heard in every stage of the research process; I hope to facilitate this and represent the service user community in the research and development team at SLaM.