Recent NHS policy has made improving access to cost-effective psychological interventions for people with mental health problems a clear priority, with the aim of improving wellbeing whilst reducing the consumption of psychoactive drugs.
At the University of Huddersfield, the Centre for Health and Social Care Research is helping to meet this challenge by developing and evaluating self-help interventions which can be provided by a range of NHS staff without professional psychotherapy or mental health training.
More than 16 million people in the UK are thought to suffer from mental health problems. In 2010 the estimated cost to individuals, employers and the government is more than £100 billion per annum.
With around only 10% of sufferers able to access psychological treatments, the development of effective self-help approaches represents an important means of supporting service users, offering them greater choice, control and shared decision-making.
The Centre’s research has resulted in the creation of the Self-Help Access in Routine Primary Care (SHARP) initiative, a programme that gives practitioners materials and training, enabling them to deliver brief self-help interventions in their routine work, supported by a dedicated website and a range of leaflets that recognise the need for easy to understand material.
Initially piloted in West Yorkshire, practitioners reported a resulting decrease in the quantity of antidepressants being prescribed, and trials carried out prior to the launch of SHARP showed positive effects on patients suffering from anxiety and depression.
The SHARP approach acknowledges the expertise of practitioners and provides additional resources and training to help them provide self-help support. Feedback from practitioners with regards to online resources and training has been positive, with evidence of an increase in practitioner confidence in their ability to deal with anxiety and depression.
There has also been an increase in the use of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
(CBT) approaches with patients, improvements consistent with national guidance on best practice.
The development of accessible self-help materials and training for practitioners contributes to normalising and understanding mental health problems. It also enables access to interventions and materials on a larger scale and provides more choice to service users. This is contributing to a shift away from viewing mental health issues as a medical condition, and instead viewing them in psychosocial terms and open to more varied and effective self-management and recovery.
Professor Michael Lucock, as Acting Director of the Centre for Health and Social Care Research, has led a research team which has developed and evaluated self-help interventions and materials. This led to the SHARP initiative which set out to provide accessible self-help support for mental health problems through a combined approach of specially developed resources and tailored training. He has contributed to the Good Practice Guide on the Contribution of Applied Psychologists to Improving Access to Psychological Therapies and the Good Practice Guidance on the Use of Self-Help Materials within Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) Services, both used widely to support the training and practice of those working within IAPT services in the UK.