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Hull and East Riding Humanist Group

A social group for humanists, atheists, secularists, sceptics and agnostics


Date:        Monday 19th March 2018, 7.30pm
Venue:    the back room of the Tiger Inn, Lairgate, Beverley, East Yorkshire, HU17 8JG

Our speaker for our March 2018 meeting was  Dr Phil Bielby of the University of Hull School of Law and Politics. Phil had provided the following overview of his talk:

In this talk, I will consider how a secular, humanistic understanding of ‘compassion as thriving’ can inform our understanding of mental health and human rights to improve public mental health policy and law. My focus is specifically on public mental health measures to promote good mental health and to intervene early in ‘common mental health problems’, like anxiety and depression. This is topical, as it meshes with recent public mental health policy discussion in UK and Europe on mental health promotion and mental ill health prevention initiatives.

I will begin by outlining an understanding of compassion as thriving which expands the domain of compassion from a more narrowly defined idea of suffering alleviation to a broader conception of suffering prevention and personal growth. This draws on insights from Martha Nussbaum, Paul Gilbert, Conor Gearty and Paul Bloom (whose recent book was the subject of Tim Stephenson’s talk to the Group last year) as well as from humanistic psychology. This understanding highlights compassion’s proactive and anticipatory quality that seeks positive transformation in the sufferer’s position. I will argue it offers the conceptual basis for a compassionate vision for public mental health which is concerned with helping people avoid reaching severe mental distress rather than being triggered by them.

I then consider the difference that a compassion as thriving approach makes to understanding the concepts of mental health and human rights. I will explain how compassion can support a ‘psychosocial’ (or ‘biopsychosocial’) approach toward mental health which emphasises the primacy of social and psychological influences on good mental health as well as mental health problems. I also claim that compassion is compatible with an understanding of human rights that goes beyond enforcing “minimal standards” (as James Nickel puts it) to one which embraces the value of psychological well-being in order that human beings are helped not only to maintain psychological well-being but also to thrive.

Lastly, I consider the prospects for an understanding of compassion as thriving in shaping and strengthening mental health promotion and early intervention strategies. To this end, I will discuss some current policy initiatives both in England and the European Union to assess to what extent they converge with a compassion as thriving approach and briefly consider two related ways in which a compassion as thriving approach might be applied in public mental health service provision.  The first is expanding the use of compassion-orientated psychotherapy.  The second is the use of such therapies to promote self-compassion. In doing so, I will consider the tension between the humanistic goals of personal growth and instrumental economic outcomes that commonly lie behind the justification of public health initiatives as well as the critical resources that compassion as thriving has to counter this.



Date:       Monday 21st March 2016, 7.30pm
Venue:    the back room of the Tiger Inn, Lairgate, Beverley, East Yorkshire, HU17 8JG

Our March meeting was a talk by Becky Lavelle on Humanist perspectives on depression.

Originally from Stockport, Becky is currently based in Hull where she is completing her 4th year of medical school. She has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine, mental health, and champions the biopsychosocial model of health and illness.Having previously graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Manchester in 2011, she is now President of the Hull University Secularist, Atheist, and Humanist Society (HUSAH), a committee member for HERHG, and in regular communication with the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist, and Secular Students’ organisation (AHS). She is actively involved in the skeptical community and proudly identifies as an ‘outspoken atheist, feminist, and Yorkshire Tea drinker’. She chairs weekly discussions at the Hull University Union, takes part in monthly clean-ups of the nearby Newland area and as a student, of course, enjoys engaging in social activities over a pint.

The talk was a discussion of our past and present understandings of Depression; exploring how perspectives of the disorder have changed and how, as Humanists, it is compatible with our values to recognise the significance of mental illness in our world today and what actions we can take to improve the situation of those affected, reduce stigma, and, ultimately, save lives.