Putting mental health research into practice

Charities might not be the first thing people think about when they hear the word ‘industry’. However, third sector and charitable companies like Second Step contribute tens of billions of pounds to the UK economy each year - Dr Myles-Jay Linton

Dr Myles-Jay Linton is a Chartered Psychologist and academic based between Bristol Medical School and the School of Education. Although Myles’ academic background is interdisciplinary, his research focuses on evaluating the impact of mental healthcare, such as service re-design, suicide prevention, art therapy and support for homeless adults.

In 2018 Myles attended a BBSRC-funded Translation Toolkits Seminar, part of a Series organised by the University’s RED KE team. The Seminar highlighted the funding available to support academics keen to take their research into industry and other non-academic organisations and practitioners.

“Up until this point,” Myles says, “I had always assumed these schemes would be more for established independent academics, rather than Early Career Researchers (ECRs).”

With support from RED, he won funding from the University’s ESRC IAA for a Knowledge Exchange (KE) Secondment to Second Step, a leading mental health charity. Commissioned by the NHS and local authorities, they’ve been working in Bristol and the South West for the last three decades.

As Myles says, “Charities might not be the first thing people think about when they hear the word ‘industry’. However, the third sector and charitable companies like Second Step contribute tens of billions of pounds to the UK economy each year.” And as Second Step points out “Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Tackling the burden of mental illness is a national priority due to its adverse economic impact (sickness related staff turnaround, absence from work and losses in productivity)”.

Like many charities, Second Step didn’t have research or evaluation capacity in-house. However, they did have a commitment to evidence-informed practice, a desire to involve staff and service-users in service improvements and plans to strengthen its links with academic researchers with universities.

Myles worked within the High-support Housing programme, designed for service-users with complex needs including homelessness, drug and alcohol misuse, mental health problems and offending behaviour. In this role, Myles gathered insight through questionnaires and focus groups on staff wellbeing within the service, training needs, and involved service-users in the selection of methods to help assess how well the service was working for them.

Together the Second Step team and Myles delivered a rich and data-informed Report for the charity’s senior management. This is now helping them to identify key performance indicators for their services; understand the challenges faced by service users; determine staff training and prioritise the development of new support systems.

An overview of the project was featured on the National Institute for Health Research Applied Research Collaboration West (NIHR ARC West) website and reached a wide ranging audience, including practitioners and policymakers across People in Health West of England, NHS Trusts, NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups, Bristol Health Partners, local authority partners and members of the public (including patients).

Another key outcome was a successful joint application for almost £9,000 in funding from the West of England Academic Health Sciences Network (WEAHSN). In January 2019 and with support from Myles,  Second Step and Golden Key were awarded funding to support ‘multi-agency working’ with some of the most vulnerable people in Bristol. The WEAHSN award also enabled Second Step to recruit additional research capacity, enabling them to involve experts and service-users in the development of new innovative tools.

Amie Dobinson, Senior Business Development Manager at Second Step explains “It’s becoming more important for the third sector to evidence impact; there’s a lot more charities can, and should, explore around long-term partnerships with universities and research institutions to show how outcomes are being achieved for service users.”

A few months later Myles was again awarded funding to develop his expertise in assessing the wider social impact of interventions. With these skills, Myles is better equipped to advise his third-sector partners in their attempts to capture the social return on investment that their work generates. In April 2019 Myles was awarded the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute Vice-Chancellor's Fellowship. “For the next four years I’ll be  conducting research into some of the key difficulties challenging young people’s mental health and wellbeing, with a focus on university students… drawing directly on expertise I developed during my ESRC IAA-funded KE secondment. In the wider context of student mental health, a truly collaborative approach needs to engage groups outside of the university, including the NHS, the third sector, and community organisations across the city. I’m really keen to create spaces where experts across disciplinary boundaries can connect and work together”.  

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