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 visitors need to be careful.

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 when interviewing 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.

A pioneering project between the University of Bristol and the School of Applied Mental Health is aiming to change things. Following six months of workshops with historian researchers, representing a number of research interests and institutions, and with specialist mental health consultancy advice from ourselves, a set of practical Researcher Wellbeing Guidelines has now been released and is freely available.

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

  • researchers
  • supervisors/line managers
  • universities
  • ethics committees
  • research funders

As well as practical steps, the document establishes five key principles for addressing the impacts of research on mental health, staff welfare and long term wellbeing. To find out more, click the link below to read the document. 

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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.