Understanding the lived experience of women with Multiple Long-term Conditions in the North-East of England – a meeting of health, gender and geography
In this blog, Afsara Khan, a PhD student co-funded by the BRC, describes the experiences that encouraged her to pursue a career in women’s health and multiple long-term conditions research.
My name is Afsara, and I am currently in the first year of my PhD at Newcastle University in the School of Population Health Sciences, having previously completed a BSc Psychology and a MSc Public Health & Health Services Research at Newcastle. Starting a PhD has been surreal: my supervisors believed in my passion enough to give me the opportunity to set me on the path of becoming a specialist within women’s health.
It all started before I even came to University. I am a strong believer that I am more human than the labels I socially identify with, like female, Asian or Muslim, but I am aware that these labels define us in the eyes of wider society. Growing up in the countryside as a person of minority, it was clearly apparent in the cultural misunderstandings within health outreach, assessment, and treatment. When given the opportunity to lead my own research in my undergraduate dissertation, I focused on the lived experience of women apart of South Asian communities and their mental health. Here, I found that health stigmas were often based in generational trauma responses being passed down as these women aged. It further resonated with me that despite our awareness of women’s health inequalities, we don’t consider other factors of inequality within women’s health such as differences between ethnic groups. This bothered me, a lot. As I progressed in my MSc investigating the barriers women felt to accessing mental healthcare, I realised that in order to improve health systems from the top down, grassroots knowledge was vital.
That led me here. The research I am conducting studies ageing with multiple long term physical and mental health conditions (multimorbidity) in women living in the North East of England. The effect of mental health conditions on physical health is often overlooked, and vice versa. As we get older, we often get diagnosed with multiple health conditions, and this is more common in women. Yet our current health models mean we treat each condition as individual rather than considering all conditions together. By assessing the lived experience and self-management of health by older women I can assess the factors contributing to multimorbidity, but also to the impact that multiple long-term conditions and their management has on the lives of these women.
In addition, the North East is an area of incredibly varying socioeconomic status and geography: by taking a case study approach analysing urban, rural and coastal areas, my work will illustrate better the impact of inequalities experienced across these different geographies. Such concepts will consider the relationship between age, gender, ethnicity and place in investigating women’s experiences. This will all contribute to recommending improvements to existing health intervention models, with the hope of remedying some aspects of women’s health inequalities. I want to understand why the problem arises before becoming part of the system that treats it, to ensure that solutions are beneficial to the women living with these conditions.
Afsara Khan is a first-year PhD student at Newcastle University. Her PhD is jointly funded by the NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre and the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration North East and North Cumbria. This joint initiative seeks to build capacity in multiple long-term conditions research and develop knowledge relevant to the needs of the North East in this priority area of NIHR research. Afsara’s PhD supervisors are Professor Katie Brittain, Professor Barbara Hanratty, Dr Nav Aujla and Professor Miles Witham, comprising an interdisciplinary team with expertise across primary care, older people, qualitative enquiry, inequalities and multiple long-term conditions.