UCLan Professor awarded rare distinction in recognition of contribution to mental health care

Professor of Philosophy and Mental Health awarded a Doctor of Letters (DLitt)

A University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) professor has been awarded the highest academic award possible for his contribution to the philosophy of mental health care.

Professor of Philosophy and Mental Health Tim Thornton has received a Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) from UCLan. D.Litt is a unique distinction offered to individuals who have contributed to the study and understanding of a subject.

Professor Thornton, a philosopher researching mental health and illness with degrees from the History and Philosophy of Science Faculty, Cambridge, teaches in the School of Nursing and becomes just the third person to achieve a higher doctorate at UCLan and the first humanities-based D.Litt.

The D.Litt degree is only awarded to candidates whose record of published work and research shows conspicuous ability and originality and constitutes a distinguished and sustained achievement.  It is considered to be the highest academic award possible.

Professor Thornton said: “I’m delighted to be awarded the higher doctorate.  I wanted to achieve this award in memory of my late father who had always found it mildly amusing that I had achieved so many qualifications and had letters after my name.”

His thesis was reviewed by Grant Gillett, Professor of Biomedical Ethics at the University of Otago in New Zealand and Matthew Ratcliffe, Professor of Philosophy at the University of York who agreed that the work of Professor Thornton met the strict criteria set out in order to achieve the award. This confirms the global reach and international importance of Professor Thornton’s work, which shows the breadth of knowledge appropriate to the field and in line with disciplinary norms and expectations.

This is an amazing and huge accomplishment which very few people achieve.

“The philosophy of mental health is a growing inter-disciplinary field of research by clinicians, philosophers and, increasingly, service users into the pressing conceptual issues surrounding mental health and illness” said Professor Thornton.

“Is mental illness diagnosis value-laden rather than purely factual and if so whose values should count? How should we understand experiences and beliefs, such as delusions, that characterise some conditions? What, if anything, should be the connection between mental illness and coercion? By bringing disciplines together to analyse and argue, the field aims to shed light on what is an especially contested area of healthcare.”

Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health and Wellbeing at UCLan Professor Nigel Harrison said: “This is an amazing and huge accomplishment which very few people achieve. It is testament to Professor Thornton’s distinguished career and the originality, research and scholarship which he has contributed to in the field, philosophy of mental health care.”

Professor Thornton is a part of the Mental Health and Wellbeing research team at UCLan, which works to ensure UCLan research brings benefit to patients and vulnerable people who are diagnosed, supported and cared for, or at risk, because of mental health needs.

Professor Thornton teaches on the BSc Pre-reg Mental Health Nursing, MSc Pre-reg Mental Health Nursing, MSc Nursing and MA Philosophy and Mental Health courses as well as supervising a number of PhD students.  

Professor Thornton will officially receive his award at the UCLan graduation ceremonies in December.  He will be unable to receive it in July’s ceremonies as the gown hire company will have to specially make the graduation robe for this occasion.


Professor of Philosophy and Mental Health Tim Thornton

Michael Bowerman | 17 July 2019