From managing GP appointments to submitting benefits applications, there are many non-clinical aspects of a mental health recovery journey that can be complex or daunting. That’s why Mental Health UK recently piloted a new model of holistic community-based support within GP surgeries for people experiencing mental illness – our Community Mental Health Navigators.
By placing Community Mental Health Navigators in GP surgeries, the goal was to provide intensive practical and emotional support to people living with mental illness, helping them access other services to protect their wellbeing.
At the core of the Navigators programme is a human approach — by supporting a whole person’s needs the pilot programme aimed to improve quality of life, assist in the better management of mental health, moving support upstream and into the community, easing pressure on the NHS.
With the final evaluation report on the pilot published by The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, we’re now seeing the benefits this approach can have within the community.
How did the Navigators programme pilot work?
Launching in 2020 across England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, four mental health Navigators were embedded within NHS healthcare teams.
Each Navigator position was facilitated by one of Mental Health UK’s four founding charities – Rethink Mental Illness (England), Adferiad (Wales), MindWise (Northern Ireland) and Change Mental Health (Scotland), who were all instrumental in delivering the pilot services.
For a period of six months each, these Navigators assisted over 250 people with their non-clinical needs, such as obtaining financial and housing advice, accessing foodbanks, submitting benefits applications, finding jobs or volunteering opportunities, and attending support groups.
What was the result of this Navigators programme pilot?
- Non-clinical needs being better met.
- Decreased anxiety/exacerbation of health or mental health conditions: people reported improvements in confidence, self-worth, purpose and in physical health.
- Better engagement in and maintenance of positive health behaviours.
- Better adherence to clinical and non-clinical treatments: navigators supported people to get medication reviews and there were some reports of people feeling better able to engage with other professionals.
- Access to and engagement in social/ community activities: interviews and survey responses suggested people felt better connected and less isolated because of navigator support.
Nicola and Teresa’s Story – How my local Navigator helped me
What’s next for the programme?
The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations’ report provides us with useful insight into how we can continue to grow the successes of the programme and overcome the challenges identified. England and Wales partners have successfully identified further funding, and now have four Community Mental Health Navigator posts in England and 12 ‘Social Navigator’ posts in Wales. Staffing issues, which is a key challenge identified in the report, has led to a pause in the programme in Northern Ireland, while Scotland is currently working to identify new funding for Navigators.
– Brian Dow, Chief Executive at Mental Health UK
"If you are experiencing a serious mental health problem, you may not have the confidence, capacity, or knowledge to obtain the variety of complex support that you need during a moment of crisis. The role of our Community Mental Health Navigators is to be that vital link between the patient and the healthcare professional who provides that structure and guidance.
“We are proud of the holistic approach to community-based care that the programme models. Moreover, we are delighted by the findings of the report by the Tavistock Institute of Human Resources, which evidence that our person-centred approach not only leads to better health outcomes for people living with mental illness, but also reduces pressures on the healthcare sector and its staff. We look forward to taking forward these learnings when expanding on the great groundwork of this pilot.”
The Community Mental Health Navigator Pilot Programme is supported by a grant from Johnson & Johnson in the UK and the Johnson & Johnson Foundation.
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