The Cost of Bearing Witness – Mental Health Impacts on Researchers

New guidelines from the University of Bristol and the School of Applied Mental Health



Scrolling video of researcher guidelines for sensitive research and wellbeing

Practical Guidelines Focus on Historian Researcher Wellbeing

The past is a foreign country, or so they say. What they don’t mention though, is that visiting researchers need to be careful – it’s dangerous out there.

Secondary traumatic stress, burnout and vicarious trauma are very real risks to research historians and indeed any researcher dealing with sensitive and traumatic subject matter (whether in archives or interviewing oral history participants). Just as with other professions that deal with traumatic accounts such as counsellors, lawyers, journalists and front-line workers, there is a cost to bearing witness. This cost is often poorly understood by many institutions and represents a real and very meaningful impact on the mental health and wellbeing of staff. 

Now, a pioneering project between the University of Bristol, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the School of Applied Mental Health (yes that’s us!) is aiming to change things. Following six months of workshops with historian researchers (representing a number of research interests, institutions, and diverse personal experiences), we have launched a practical Researcher Wellbeing Guidelines as a free resource.

As we all know, good mental health at work is not the responsibility of just one person with the guidelines themselves targeting advice for:

  • researchers (at every career stage from early career and PhD students through to senior academics and principal investigators)
  • supervisors/line managers
  • universities
  • ethics committees
  • research funders

As well as practical steps, the document establishes five key principles for addressing the impacts of challenging research on mental health, staff welfare and long term wellbeing. To find out more, click the link below to read the document or read a reflective article about the work on History Workshop Online. We now launching a new training course for historical researchers to give everyone the tools and knowledge to manage the risks of working with sensitive and emotionally challenging evidence. Get in touch to find out more.  

Researcher Training and Bespoke Guidance

Ready to know more about researcher mental health and wellbeing? Register your interest in our upcoming course or get in touch for a chat with us  for our consultancy work and how we can help your organisation, research or project.

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How to Reference this Blog Post

Suggested reference for this post:

School of Applied Mental Health (2021). The Cost of Bearing Witness – Mental Health Impacts on Researchers. Available from:

Image Credits

Header GIF by The School of Applied Mental Health.