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The UNFOLD study aims to identify the processes involved in developing an identity as a ‘person in recovery’, and how recovery from mental ill health may ‘unfold’ over time. It is funded by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre from 2018 to 2022 as a PhD studentship for Emilia Deakin.

To date almost all empirical studies of recovery have been retrospective and focussed on psychological change. In this longitudinal study, we will measure levels of wellbeing, contact with social groups and level of social identification. These variables will be measured using the experience sampling method, which will also allow us to detect temporal precedence between variables. Investigation of how recovery occurs prospectively has the potential to reduce or eliminate recall biases, produce more valid data and potentially lead to a better understanding of personal recovery.

Aims and objectives

Aim 1 is to assess digital data collection methods to evaluate prospective assessment of identity change. 


1.1 To characterise digital approaches to data collection 

1.2 To evaluate these approaches in a research context

1.3 To apply active and passive approaches to data collection and make recommendations

Aim 2 is to characterise the processes involved in developing an identity as a ‘person in recovery’ with particular attention to social identity and sense of wellbeing. 


2.1 To evaluate the relationship between social identity change and eudaimonic wellbeing

Hypothesis 1: Increase in social contact with members of social groups over time precedes increased sense of eudaimonic wellbeing 

Hypothesis 2: Participants who maintain group memberships from baseline to follow up will report higher levels of wellbeing than those who do not maintain group memberships

2.2 To explore the role of social relationships in recovery from psychosis.


The study has two phases.

Phase 1: The study will start with the collection of smartphone data from 50 participants. Participants will be asked to fill out questionnaires sent to their smartphone about their wellbeing social environment. This phase will last for 9 months.

Phase 2: Semi-structured interviews will be carried out with ten of the participants, to expand on and to inform interpretation of the phase one results. Participants will be asked about changes in their social identity, such as:  how the groups they use to describe themselves/define themselves has changed, and how have changes in groups influenced their recovery.

We are conducting a systematic review of design decisions in experience sampling methods in psychosis, based on a pre-registered protocol (here).

If you would like further information about UNFOLD please contact Emilia Deakin at Emilia.Deakin@nottingham.ac.uk.