On February 24th 2015, Leeds Health and Wellbeing Board held a user engagement workshop which focused on how mental health and wellbeing could be improved in Leeds. Phil Morcom, Senior Communication Officer at Leeds City Council, who attended the workshop shares what he learnt from the event.
I’ve long had an interest in mental health and I’m glad it is an increasingly high profile issue. The involvement of famous faces from the worlds of sport and entertainment among those sharing stories of their experiences and an increasing political profile will help combat stigma and improved awareness.
The Health and Wellbeing Board has already made a commitment to a mental health framework for the city, but a recent mental health workshop at Inkwell in Chapel Allerton gave members of the board a chance to hear from service users and people working in health about their experiences and knowledge.
The event was one of a series organised for the board on a variety of topics, and part of the commitment to engage with service users as experts.
To kick start the discussions, Leeds North CCG’s Lianne Langdon explained the legislative and policy backgrounds to the city work on improving mental health, and then explained in more depth how the city was delivering and planning, based on the national situation.
There’s a clear acknowledgement that not everything in the garden is rosy, despite the best efforts of so many. She highlighted a range of issues where more needs to be done. These include increased awareness that mental health services were not well enough linked to the delivery of other aspects of healthcare.
Other significant challenges we face locally (and this echoes experiences elsewhere) include the complexity of services, the need for more accessible centralised information and the pressures of high demand and inequalities between different areas of the city. There was also awareness of the value of early intervention and better knowledge of service provision.
Core to making sense of the situation was the experience of service users. The Health and Wellbeing Board is keenly aware that they provide the expertise based on the experiences which can really help inform the directions for policy and strategy. So they were invited to share their know-how, including what services they used, issues around getting the right support at the right time and in the right place, and their actual direct experience of treatment services.
Because the members of the Health and Wellbeing Board were gathered into groups with service users, there was a great chance for hearing from those at the sharp end about what the problems are in the system and – more importantly – what ideas people had about what would make things better.
Cllr Lisa Mulherin, Chair of the Health and Wellbeing Board, highlighted the value of open and frank conversations which can identify where the problems are and then ensure that we can work out solutions together.
The huge range of experiences means that diversity and variation needs to be matched with flexibility and understanding from those offering support and help. We all know that physical health needs to be treated according to the huge range of potential causes and symptoms – and mental health needs this too.
There was also understanding of the need to do what we can to focus on prevention and early intervention. That’s why a focus on mental health is an important strand of the preparation for birth and beyond activity. By getting the right help and awareness in place for families, we can make a huge difference to both short and long term health, both physical and mental.
Some sections of the population have higher rates of mental ill health, and there is clearly more to do helping deal with crisis care and support, but at least as importantly, early intervention and support. This isn’t just provided by statutory health and care services, but from partners including the police and education, and from assets within communities themselves. There’s good progress on this in Leeds, and it was great to have Chief Inspector Nick Adams from West Yorkshire Police involved. He was able to explain how police officers on the beat provided with swift mental health response to support people suffering mental ill health, have helped reduce admissions to hospital by 28% since April 2014.
Knowing that there are other people who suffer from mental health problems mean that peer support services are crucial in providing support in self-management and peer networks. There’s also help with housing, employment, anti-discrimination work, suicide prevention, crisis services and personal budgets for mental health.”
Of course, all of this requires investment, which is not easy in a time of austerity. But improvement doesn’t always have to cost more. We can also make a difference by working more effectively, learning from best practice and sharing experiences which will help prevent the same problems being made time and time again.
The Health and Wellbeing Board discussed the Leeds Mental Health Framework at the February 2015 meeting, where members acknowledged the challenge of making sure that performance is effectively monitored; inconsistencies would be identified and tackled and wider participation and support for the framework would be promoted in the city.
There’s clearly also a need to make sure that outcomes are monitored, we evaluate what we do, make changes when we need to and revise policies and procedures in the light of what we learn.
It was enlightening to hear from people who shared their stories and experiences. The Health and Wellbeing Board members committed to using what they heard to shape the service provision and support in the future.
The session drew to a close with attendees looking at areas they felt had helped them be aware of as priorities. Some key areas for focus (in no particular order) were:
- Setting the culture of organisations to have good working practices to promote mental health – eg email culture, working hours stress.
- Support for children and YP – not necessarily by people badged as mental health experts, but ‘ordinary’ workers
- Promoting more self-help and peer support.
- Stigma – including the under-represented stigma around personality disorder – with a view of how positive it could be for board members to tell their personal experiences as a good example.
- Build resilience and early intervention in children and young people, including perinatal activity
- Community service redesign – place-based integration of services; networks of access ‘scaffolding of support’ (eg suicide prevention model).
- Normalising mental wellbeing – we wondered if #Hellomynameisandhowareyou? (Or something of the sort) could be a way to tackle stigma and diagnosis
- Housing – tackling the impact of poor quality housing and environment
- Doing more for 24/7 support – as this currently sits with police and A&E some asked if that is enough?
- Crisis support and intervention threshold.
This is clearly an area of work which will take a while to sort. But the more we discuss it, the better aware we are of the problems and further we understand what works, then the future will look brighter.