Accessibility statement

Renée Aleong

BA (Hons) Social Work (University of York), MA Social Research (University of York)

PhD student 


Thesis supervisors

Professor Martin Webber

Dr Jennifer Threlfall

Thesis topic

Approved mental health professionals and the compulsory detention of Black service-users under the Mental Health Act: An Institutional Ethnography.

Thesis summary

Research studies and data monitoring have consistently shown that Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) groups in Britain are disproportionately represented in compulsory detention under the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA) compared to White groups. The role of the Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) is to provide an independent decision about whether or not there are alternatives to detention under the MHA, seeking the least restrictive alternative and bringing a social perspective to bear on their decision. This PhD research will apply institutional ethnography as a social theory and methodology to answer the guiding research question: How do the operational and institutional structures within the role of social worker AMPHs influence the process of compulsory detention of Black service-users under the MHA?  This study’s exploratory qualitative research approach will form a narrative that describes the systemic ways in which the role of social worker AMHPs conducting sectioning processes under the MHA is structured and operationalised. 

Despite past governments’ implementation of race equality training, strategies and policies to support equality in BME mental health care, the phenomenon of the overrepresentation of Black people in the British mental health system persists. Existing studies have focused on sociological explanations for this phenomenon, which centre on the social exclusion of service-users. Little is written on institutional factors such as organisational and professional culture and practices. Thus a new agenda, which explores professional structures and their impact on mental health services and a wider approach to mental public health, is required. By making use of this innovative research method, this will be the first known IE study in Britain to address this gap in the literature. This study represents a substantial and original contribution to the knowledge base of Black mental health, which may provide insight and understanding of the phenomenon of overrepresentation. This information is crucial to service-users, professionals and policy makers within Britain’s mental health system. 

Renée’s PhD is funded by a ‘Pathway Award’ from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).


General research interests

  • Reducing ethnic inequalities in health and mental health
  • Intersectionality: Health, deprivation, ethnicity and gender
  • Multi-dimensional ways in which inequalities are constructed and maintained
  • Interventions that improve access, experience and outcomes for disadvantaged communities 


Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) at the University of York experience includes:

The Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) programme

MA Social Work Ethnicity and cultural diversity skill days


Conference Presentation

Title: What is known about barriers to accessing adult mental health services for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) groups in England?

22 July 2019 - Poster presentation at the 9th International Conference on Social Work in Health and Mental Health, University of York, UK.


From 2015 - 2019 I undertook a BA in Social Work followed by an MA in Social Research at the University of York. Prior to that, I worked for ten years in the Civil Service undertaking various roles within the Ministry of Justice and two years at the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Through my work experience, I became passionate about making a positive change through social work aimed at reducing inequalities, particularly in relation to mental health for disadvantaged and under-served groups. On completion of my undergraduate and Masters studies, I decided to solidify my academic and research experience through doctoral study. In 2019, I was awarded an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) scholarship to undertake my PhD in social policy and social work, investigating the compulsory detention of Black service-users under the Mental Health Act, which I began in the October of that year.

My knowledge and application of social research methods includes hands-on experience working with a range of research techniques and software for data analysis. My future plans include dissemination of my research findings, teaching and continuation of my research at postdoctoral level. 



Renée Aleong

Contact details

Rénee Aleong
PhD student
School for Business and Society