Ensuring users get the best out of mental health services

Published: 15 Dec 2014

Author: Rita Long
Ensuring users get the best out of mental health services

Rita Long is a researcher at the Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research at Lancaster University. She recently returned from a Churchill Fellowship to America and Canada, where she investigated how other organisations facilitate service user involvement in academia, services and mental health charities.

Whilst on her trip she discovered that she had also been shortlisted for ‘Volunteer of the Year’ for the charity ‘Bipolar UK’.

As a service user researcher, Rita believes that people with mental health issues should contribute to all stages of mental health research and service design. However, involvement and consultation is a relatively new phenomenon and not without its challenges.

Whilst in Canada, Rita worked with an organisation called Crest BD at the University of British Columbia, working alongside staff and voluntary groups to facilitate three consultation evenings in Ontario. This demonstrated to Rita how Canada’s mental health charities work collaboratively with Crest BD to recruit and facilitate consultation evenings in other parts of the country.

Rita delivered a webinar about the role of the service user researcher. Collaborative working with mental health charities and information exchange methods are just two of Rita’s Fellowship experiences that she intends to implement now that she is back in the UK.

Rita was also able to establish links with a bipolar peer support group in Portland, Oregon. The use of social media and reminder emails are supportive tools that Rita now intends to pass on the MIND and BPUK charities, as they have just been awarded a lottery funded grant to identify needs, and meet the requirements of peer support groups in the UK.

In America, Rita witnessed an excellent example of effective service delivery practice. Services are offered to friends and family as well as the individual for up to two years.

The whole experience was particularly special to Rita as she has bipolar disorder and had never spent more than six weeks outside of Greater Manchester until the Fellowship opportunity.

She says, “Not only has the Fellowship given me the opportunity to learn, develop skills and travel; it has also given me great confidence and an enormous sense of achievement.”