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Dr Sarah Gordon

Dr Sarah Gordon thumbnail Project Lead / Senior Research Fellow


Sarah's personal experience of mental illness shaped her university study with the areas of psychology, medical law, bioethics, and psychological medicine being the focus through to PhD level. Combining this theoretical education and personal experience, Sarah has spent the last 20 years working and advocating for an improved mental health sector and societal perceptions of mental health from the perspective of a person who personally experiences mental illness.

Her recent research has focused on two themes: reducing discrimination associated with mental illness among medical students and the Police, and promoting recovery-focused services and resources – in line with the recent major reorientation of service delivery models in mental health in New Zealand and internationally.

As a service user academic, she has done this through service user-led and co-produced research that involves meaningful service user involvement in all conceptual and developmental stages of the process, which has also been another research focus.

Sarah has promoted the growth of the service user academia discipline in various ways and now has the support of four others who make up New Zealand's only service user academia team at the University of Otago, Wellington.

Rachel Tester

Rachel Tester thumbnail Programme Manager / Research Fellow


Rachel currently works across two departments at the University of Otago, Wellington:

  • The Department of Primary Health Care and General Practice, where she is a member of the ARCH Group (Applied Research on Communication in Healthcare)
  • The Department of Psychological Medicine, where she is a member of a new service user research group called World of Difference

Rachel completed her BSc and GradDipSci qualifications in psychology (social discursive), and uses her personal lived experience to inform her work.

She has an interest in Jungian analysis and recovery from psychological trauma, and has been involved in several research projects with a mental health and addictions focus (for example, conversations on sensitive topics such as substance use, weight management, lifestyle, and behaviour change).

Rachel is the programme manager for two HPA-funded Like Minds, Like Mine anti-stigma and discrimination education programmes being developed, delivered, and evaluated by the World of Difference service user research group: one for healthcare professionals (medical students and psychiatric registrars), and one for the NZ Police.

Her key interest is in promoting recovery-oriented services to help improve health outcomes for people who experience mental distress.

Dasha Fedchuk

Dasha Fedchuk thumbnail Assistant Programme Manager / Assistant Research Fellow


Having completed her MSc (Psychology) in 2017, Dasha is now employed by the department of Psychological Medicine in an Assistant Research Fellow / Assistant Programme Manager capacity, where she is a member of the World of Difference service user research group.

Dasha operates from a service user-led perspective, which underpins her research and informs her work. Her previous qualitative research focused on understanding the mechanisms of non-suicidal self-injury in members of LGBTQ communities. Her current research focus is on two three-year, mixed-methods projects which evaluate the benefits of anti-stigma and discrimination programmes taught to mental health trainees and the New Zealand Police.

Passionate about changing damaging ideologies and stigmatising rhetoric, a common objective within her work is in improving approaches used by health professionals and other support services towards people experiencing mental distress.

Her previous work experience involves working alongside vulnerable youth, peer support for individuals with lived experience of mental distress, and work with rainbow communities of Wellington. She is also interested in suicide prevention, and advocates for service user employment in influential roles of both academia and the mental health sector.

Tracey Gardiner

Tracey Gardiner image 2020 Assistant Programme Manager/ Assistant Research Fellow


Tracey is the Assistant Programme Manager for the two World of Difference programmes, where she works closely with our team of educators to administer our training to the NZ police and to healthcare providers. She also works as an Assistant Research Fellow within the research team with a focus on qualitative analysis. Tracey comes from a background of studying media and public health, with a particular interest in examining and challenging the effect of media representations on the healthcare of underprivileged groups.

Jess Senior

Jess Senior image 2020 Associate Research Fellow


Jess's passion for the mental health and wellbeing field has given her a diverse background including education, youth work, management, community development, research, supervision, project management, inspecting and reviewing mental health services, strategic advice and quality improvement. She has worked in NGO, tertiary education, local government and District Health Board settings. Many of her roles have had an explicit lived experience focus, including her current roles as Associate Research Fellow with the World of Difference programme and Consumer Advisor – Youth Strategy with Mental Health, Addictions, & Intellectual Disability Service 3DHB. Jess's World of Difference role works across the police and health provider contracts, and includes training development and adaptation, research, and mentoring other organisations to implement the programme. She has a particular interest in co-production and authentic lived experience involvement in education, research, and service design and delivery.

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