Mental health and ‘the importance of human connections’

Published 08 August 2011

cynthiaProfessor Cynthia Stuhlmiller from the University of New England’s School of Health will draw on her pioneering work with Vietnam veterans, and on individual and collective responses to psychological trauma and disaster, when she gives a public lecture in Armidale on “the importance of human connections” in mental health.

Titled “Health Disorder and the Psychiatric Enterprise: The Importance of Human Connections”, this will be Cynthia Stuhlmiller’s “inaugural lecture” to the Armidale community as a newly-appointed Professor at UNE. She will discuss the importance of human connectedness in preserving the sense of dignity and self-worth that is necessary for health and healing.

Her lecture, aimed at a general audience, will trace concepts of health and disorder that have shaped our understanding of psychological experiences. It will be in the Armidale Town Hall at 6.30 pm on Wednesday 17 August.

Professor Stuhlmiller will use diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder, seasonal affective disorder and schizophrenia to illustrate the dangers of classification systems generally. “While diagnoses can bring meaning to experiences and join individuals in suffering, they can also serve to disconnect individuals and communities when the meanings are based on a ‘deficit’ view of the person or persons,” she said. “This view undermines personal and collective strength and cultural resilience and coping practices.”

Cynthia Stuhlmiller (pictured here) has held leading clinical and academic positions in the United States, New Zealand, Norway, Australia and the UK – including those of Professor of Mental Health Nursing at the University of Technology, Sydney, and Professor of Mental Health Nursing at Flinders University, South Australia.

Her position on mental health is critical of narrow, decontextualised views of what constitutes disorder, and honours the experiences of individuals and communities who confront and live through challenges. She will argue that interventions derived from an interpretative approach pave the way to restoring human connections that can preserve the sense of dignity and self-worth, and that the “salutogenic” model (i.e. one that focuses on factors that support human health and wellbeing) holds the most promise for promoting mental health in a global society.

Professor Stuhlmiller will conclude her presentation by talking about her current education and research focus, which aims to increase accessibility to health information and help, while reducing the costs associated with suffering.

Everyone is welcome to attend this free lecture, which will be the third in UNE’s 2011 Inaugural Lecture Series.  The Director of the UNE Foundation, Dr Geoffrey Fox, will – on behalf of the Chancellor – welcome guests to the lecture, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jim Barber, will propose a vote of thanks, and the event will include the traditional academic procession.

Drinks and canapés in the Town Hall foyer will follow the lecture. RSVP (for catering purposes) by Friday 12 August to Susan Delpratt on 6773 2960, or e-mail