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Working in the Mental Health System: Evaluation and Advice

| Social Policy

Anyone who has worked with young people over the last few years is aware of current concerns around mental health, which touch on the professional roles and responsibilities of all those who work with children and young people; from school staff, to youth workers and Third Sector employees.

There are many organisations that fit together as part of a far wider system, beyond specialist NHS Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services (NHS CYPMHS) alone.

Our Children and Families Team at Ecorys have looked into this system in detail through a range of studies for national government department and Third Sector organisations, most recently completing a follow-up evaluation of the Mental Health and Schools Link pilot programme (in addition to our initial evaluation). As our initial work fed directly into the Government’s 2017 green paper, Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision, carrying out the follow-up study gave us the opportunity to continue contributing to this key issue.

Both the initial and follow-up evaluation looked at the effectiveness of a workshop approach to improve joint working across all key groups involved in young people’s mental health. This involved getting the views of all those involved, including schools, NHS CYPMHS, youth organisations, local government etc. We carried out surveys, observed workshop sessions and visited organisations across the country to understand how well the programme worked in practice.

Results of the follow-up evaluation showed improvements to some aspects of communication and joint working between schools and NHS CYPMHS, with signs that this was associated with the extent that areas were able to put concrete joint working plans in place. Cross-organisational commitment and strategic buy-in were key factors in ensuring success. The workshops themselves were generally viewed positively. Knowledge and awareness of mental health issues increased subsequently although this had not translated into increased satisfaction with the quality and timeliness of referrals among schools, or increased frequency of reported contact between schools and CYPMH organisations.

While there is considerable learning available to all stakeholder in our final report, one of the most eye-opening issues was the extent that workshops were needed. Data and conversations showed that staff really wanted to support young people with mental health issues but didn’t always know their exact place or role in the system. 

We’ve reflected on this issue and on other similar discussions we’ve had with stakeholders recently and have developed three important tips for working across the mental health system:

- Know your referral process. Many staff we’ve spoken to have either been unaware of their referral process or have misunderstood certain aspects. Even if you think you know the process you should check to make sure. Sometimes processes change quickly, and communication can be missed

- Speak to other organisations. It is very easy for misconceptions to take hold and build into bigger issues. Each organisation may be part of an overall system, but they have their own unique concerns and pressures. Speaking directly and openly to understand these can help – everyone wants to help young people, and this is an important first step

- Remember your role. You and your organisation are one part of a wider system.  Know what you need to do to make the system work as well as it can, but remember you are only one part of a bigger picture. Make sure you have your own support system in place, and look after your own mental health. 

Although there is no magic solution, putting these three steps in place should start to make a difference. At Ecorys we are committed not only to undertaking quality evaluation but in thinking carefully about how our work can provide real value. Let us know your thoughts on this, or any other issue, and we’ll be delighted to talk in more detail.

For more information, please contact Associate Director, Diarmid Campbell-Jack on [email protected]