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Research interests

Social work practice is underpinned by a wealth of theory and practice wisdom, but relatively little research evidence. I am interested in developing the evidence base about what works best in social work with people with mental health problems. This requires an understanding of the social interventions that social workers use and research studies including a variety of methodologies, including experimental ones, to evaluate their effectiveness.

My primary interest is in the social context of people’s lives and how this may help or detract from their recovery from a mental health problem. Social workers and other practitioners can support people to overcome social problems and assist their recovery. Research evidence can help them to be more effective in this work by highlighting what works best and what doesn’t.

I blog regularly about studies I’m involved in or have completed. Here are a few examples:

Connecting People Intervention

Social networks provide essential resources for us in our day to day lives, such as support, information about job opportunities or practical assistance. Many people who experience mental health problems have access to fewer resources from their networks than the general population. As these resources can assist recovery, there is a role for mental health professionals in supporting people to connect with others to enhance their social networks.

Using qualitative methods, we investigated health and social care practice in NHS, local authority and third sector agencies to identify how practitioners connect people with others. Through our research findings we developed the Connecting People Intervention. We then piloted the intervention in 14 community mental health teams and third sector agencies to evaluate its effectiveness and cost-effectiveness. We found that where the intervention model was implemented more fully, participants’ social networks became more resourceful. These studies were funded by the NIHR School for Social Care Research who published the study findings earlier this year.

More information about the Connecting People Intervention, including training videos, can be found on the study website.

Personal budgets in mental health services

Personal budgets have become the default way to deliver social care, and personal health budgets are being introduced in the NHS. Pilot studies found that they can improve outcomes for people with mental health problems, though they are infrequently used in NHS mental health services. We conducted systematic and scoping reviews to explore reasons for this. We found that limited research has been conducted on the effectiveness of personal budgets and their implementation is hampered by many factors including a lack of leadership and their low priority in many mental health services. The systematic review was published by the Journal of Mental Health in 2014. This work was funded by a NIHR Programme Development Grant.

Evaluation of Mindapples training

Comic Relief and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity funded two pilots of the Mindapples training programme ‘Your Mind: A User’s Guide’ for undergraduate student nurses and people who have experience of mental health problems. The Mindapples training aims to teach psychological awareness, mental resilience and self-efficacy by enabling participants to understand the nature of their minds and mental health, and to develop effective coping mechanisms to deal with stress and make the most of their mental capabilities. Our evaluations found that the training can improve participants’ knowledge of mental effectiveness and their ability to self-manage stress. Reports of the two evaluations can be found in this blog post.

Evaluation of Scarborough street triage service

The Department of Health has invested in pilots of street triage to try to improve access to crisis care for people with mental health problems and reduce use of s.136 Mental Health Act 1983. Street triage involves police officers consulting mental health professionals when called to incidents involving people with mental health problems. Our evaluation of the street triage pilot in Scarborough is funded by an N8/ESRC project exploring new models of co-production in research. This evaluation is co-produced by North Yorkshire Police, Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust and the International Centre for Mental Health Social Research at the University of York. It will be followed by a White Rose Doctoral Training Centre collaborative PhD studentship in September 2015 to evaluate long-term outcomes of street triage. The final report of the evaluation will be published shortly.

Evaluation of the Southwark Peer Support service

The Southwark Peer Support Service is provided by South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. It aims to connect people with mental health problems with others to support their recovery. Our evaluation of this service will help it to understand how it works and how it can be optimised to enhance outcomes for its service users.

Evaluation of the Bridging the Gap service

Bridging the Gap is a specialist service in York for men with a diagnosis of personality disorder who are within the criminal justice system. Referred by their Offender Manager, the users of this service are supported to resettle back into community life after a period of time in prison or hospital. This evaluation will help the service to assess the six and twelve month outcomes of new referrals, and their experience of the service.


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