Highlighting NIHR SSCR research

Highlighting NIHR SSCR research

One in four people in Europe, and one in eight globally, have mental health needs. Social care plays an important role by providing support and services that promote well-being, recovery, and social inclusion for individuals facing mental health challenges.

Mental health social care research is vital to enhance the well-being of individuals and communities. Through research, policymakers and practitioners can respond to changing needs, foster innovation and ensure ethical, effective and equitable care delivery, ultimately leading to better outcomes.

Now in its 15th year, the NIHR School for Social Care Research has commissioned a number of studies to support improvements in mental health care in England. This has included work on the contribution of social work in community mental health teams, socially oriented approaches to recovery for African and Caribbean men, social inclusion in individuals, mental health service user perspectives on targeted violence and hostility in the context of adult safeguarding, the contribution of family focused approaches to reablement, and service user and practitioner experiences of Community Treatment Orders.

On World Mental Health Day today, we highlight some of the research currently underway in our current phase (2019-2024).

Conceptualising mental health and social care

Shoshana Lauter at LSE has been developing a conceptual framework to understand the relationship between mental health and social care to set out how it currently functions, highlight evidence gaps and research priorities through interviews with experts and scoping of current evidence. Emerging findings highlight the need for flexibility in defining mental health social care, and in its operation to meet individual needs and preferences. Findings from this work will be available soon.

Engagement with services

Christopher Murray and colleagues at the University of Manchester are scoping the impact of social care for people who do not get care when they are having a mental health crisis, and whether they sought and used social care services. Findings will be available early next year.

Similarly, Bethany Warwick has recently started doctoral research at the University of Manchester to explore this in more depth. The research will explore the experiences of those who have been excluded from health services at the point of a mental health crisis and access social care services, as well as the experiences of social care professionals who work with people who have been excluded.

Colleagues at the University of York led research to develop and refine a prototype learning and development intervention to enhance specialist support worker knowledge, understanding and skills to reduce the difficulties that older people with mental health needs have when engaging with social care. The project co-produced and piloted the HOPES2 learning programme which was rated highly for ‘active learning’, ‘organisation’ and ‘teacher-student relationship’ by participants. Further work is underway to develop resources as part of the programme.

Researchers at the University of Manchester led by Alys Young have been exploring Mental Health Act (MHA) assessments carried out by Approved Mental Health Professionals (AMHPs) where an interpreter is involved, and the impacts on process, equity and outcomes. Emerging findings have been shared today. The research points to the need for:

  • evidence-based guidance on working alongside interpreters in MHA assessments to improve practice and reduce inequities;
  • a minimum standard of qualification with additional specialist training for working in statutory practice for interpreters;
  • training for AMHPs to work alongside interpreters and interpreters for working specifically in statutory mental health circumstances; and
  • addressing disparities in process and outcome arising from language in drafting new legislation and statutory guidance.

Emma Whitfield has recently started doctoral research at the University of York exploring ethical decision-making in mental health social care. The research aims to identify a model through which practitioners can incorporate ethics into evaluation of mental health social work outcomes, as well as the views, perspectives and experiences of service users.

Michael Clark at LSE is scoping the issues involved in developing good winter planning for mental health social care. This scoping study is exploring perspectives on, and understanding of, mental health and social within winter planning in general, identifying promising services and localities that could be evaluated for future research, and identifying research priorities. Findings are due early next year.


Sarah Carr and colleagues have been exploring service users’ experiences of avoidable harm. Key themes identified through a review of the evidence included poor relationships and communication with practitioners, lack of control in care planning, lack of adequate support to meet identified needs, fragmented services and inflexible systems. These led to stress, distress and disempowerment for mental health social care service users.

The project has developed a user-defined model of avoidable harm and its minimisation in mental health social care in England based on how people receiving mental health social care experience and conceptualise avoidable harms and discussions with practitioners. Areas highlighted to help minimise harm included: restorative practice; improved assessment and care planning; better frontline practice; a service user generated set of practice principles; improvements in practitioner recruitment, education and training; better monitoring and regulation; accessible and responsive complaints processes; independent advocacy and user-led support; and enhanced understanding of risk. Full findings will be published later this year.

Social engagement

The Social Inclusion Questionnaire User Experience (SInQUE) was developed as a validated measure of social inclusion for use with people who have mental health needs as part of an NIHR SSCR-funded project in 2020. Researchers at University College London led by Brynmor Lloyd-Evans have been developing an online version of the SInQUE for use in mental health supported accommodation services, and examining its acceptability and perceived usefulness as a tool to support care planning with service users. ‘Think-aloud’ testing took place with 6 supported accommodation staff to develop the tool, followed by field-testing in 3 local authority sites – one with an implementation strategy compared with two others where the tool was available without an implementation strategy. Results suggest that the tool could be a useful tool but would require an implementation strategy to ensure its use by staff and service users.

At Bristol, Alexandra Vickery interviewed 21 men aged between 65 and 86 years who were attending a community support group that supported their mental wellbeing and 5 community group facilitators. The research found that community support groups provided a safe space that allowed older men to be vulnerable, provide purpose and facilitate meaningful social connections with others who have shared understanding. The project suggests that more investment is needed in the development, running of, and support for, community support groups, alongside more signposting to support older men to manage their wellbeing and transition successfully into later life. Full findings will be published shortly.

Support for carers

Martin Webber and colleagues at the University of York have been exploring guidance for NHS Mental Health Trusts on how to fully engage with carers as part of the Section 17 provision for leave from hospital for people experiencing mental health problems detained under the Mental Health Act. Findings from this research will be available shortly.

Doctoral research by Cassandra Lovelock at LSE has been investigating mental health carers’ experiential knowledge – how this informs their identity and how they utilise their knowledge within the formal care team and to influence wider mental health services. This research is due to complete shortly.

Three NIHR Schools Programme on Mental Health

In addition to research funded through NIHR SSCR, the NIHR Schools for Primary Care Research (SPCR), Public Health Research (SPHR) and Social Care Research (SSCR) are collaborating on a unique programme of research on mental health.

Along with other awards, research through the Programme is underway through NIHR SSCR led by Catherine Robinson at the University of Manchester and Michael Clark at LSE to scope priority areas across primary care, public health and social care to provide a catalyst for new research.

Find out more

Much of our current research will be reporting findings over the coming months. Keep up to date with the evidence by signing up to our newsletter.

Tuesday, October 10th, 2023

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