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Our Vision for PLOS Mental Health: Interview with Editors-in-Chief Charlene Sunkel and Rochelle Burgess

Following the launch of PLOS Mental Health earlier this year, we sat down with Editors-in-Chief to learn more about their vision for the journal, focusing on the lived experience, and how Open Science is critical to the field.

Headshot of Charlene Sunkel

What is your vision for PLOS Mental Health? 

Rochelle: PLOS Mental Health will be a game changer. Our perspective rejects the subdivisions of our field, and seeks to create a space where those who are committed to improving mental health can come together, learn from each other, and build the new advances in mental health that will transform services, systems and most importantly, people’s lives. 

Charlene: PLOS Mental Health will stand out as a comprehensive publication that appreciates the multifaceted scope of mental health and the elements that influence its advancements in the field, and that values a focused approach through placing people with lived experience central to its work.

The journal has a broad and inclusive scope. Why is this important? 

Charlene: Mental health and well-being are influenced by an array of factors and therefore require a holistic and life-course approach. The broad scope of the journal is important as it allows for activating appropriate responses to what we experience and want to change in mental health. 

Rochelle: Attention to social, political, structural, economic, and other dimensions of our social world must be a part of how we understand what mental health means, and how we fight to ensure people experience it. For too long we have worked in silos – meaning we cannot take seriously these multiple perspectives. PLOS Mental Health refuses to accept this as the norm – and I am so excited to see what amazing things emerge because of this.

What developments are occurring in your field of expertise that excite you currently? 

Charlene: The most exciting development in mental health is the increased inclusion of people with lived experience of a mental health condition and the recognition of the value of experts by experience to improve outcomes of mental healthcare worldwide. Experts by experience have become significantly more involved across all phases of research, policy, service development and delivery, training of mental health practitioners, monitoring and evaluation, and other areas in the field. Our lived experiences have not been in vain but have become an asset.

Rochelle: Well – I am so excited Charlene is my Co-Editor-in-Chief – because what this embodies is how seriously the field is beginning to take lived-experience expertise, not just in theory, but in practice. The fact that we have an Expert by Experience at the helm of a Journal of this magnitude, shows me just how far we have come. We cannot advance the field in the absence of understanding what our efforts mean for those in the real world.

How will Open Science play a key role in the journal achieving its vision and advancing the field?

Rochelle: If what we do is not available to all, then what good is it? Historically science produced in high-income countries, has only been consumable by those in high-income countries – despite the fact that such evidence often informs global policy and practice. Open science is a huge part of rectifying these wrongs – including ensuring that all voices are able to contribute to spaces of knowledge generation. Our journal has committed to these principles, and we practice what we preach by ensuring diversity of ethnicity, gender, geographies, and more on our editorial boards. It’s a great time to be working in the knowledge production space, because we are finally on the right path to changing the status-quo.

Charlene: Science has evolved over time and no longer exists exclusively for the academic and research communities. It has become a point of departure for non-academics and mental health advocates who promote change in policy and practice. Evidence originates from the realities of people who encounter mental health problems and the communities that they interact with. Open Science gives all of these audiences an access point. It is a pivotal instrument that brings diverse realities and expertise into evidence which then becomes a tool to promote and advocate for mental health and well-being of all people. Everyone has a role to play.

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