Proving personalisation works, one person at a time

How can we prove that personalisation works in mental health?

Let me start by defining what I mean when I talk about personalisation. In its essence personalised support means people having choice and being in control of the support they receive. By supporting people in this way we can build people's resilience and enable them to move towards greater independence from paid support, ultimately moving them closer to where they want to be in their lives.

Personalisation has traditionally lagged behind in mental health, when compared to other sectors. It is therefore crucial that we collect strong evidence to highlight the positive outcomes people can achieve when they are supported in this way, if we want to progress the agenda.

We at Together for Mental Wellbeing have just completed the second three-year independent evaluation of our personalised services, funded by the Department of Health and carried out by the Mental Health Foundation. The aim of these evaluations was to measure the impact our personalised community and accommodation services have on people that use them. We also wanted to provide evidence of the benefits of personalised services more widely.

The findings from both of these evaluations show that after receiving personalised support, people experienced significant improvements in wellbeing. In a community setting, people also built up social support skills and improved relationships with health professionals. In an accommodation setting, people started to lead healthier lifestyles and move on to living independently.

These evaluations help us to paint a picture of the true impact personalisation can have on people's lives. To really highlight this, we also heard from over 20 people that we've supported to reach their goals, to complement the quantitative findings of these evaluations. It's really important that we highlight what success looks like to each individual and use this to measure our performance.

Take Tom who told us this:

"I've gone full circle - I used to feel like I couldn't take this life anymore, but now I feel so much more positive about life and my future. I used to think about suicide every day, but now I don't think about it at all. Coming here was the best thing for me. I want to live now, and now when I speak to my mum I can say I'm really happy to be alive," Tom, who has used one of Together's residential services.

Ultimately we must remember who personalisation is about - and that's the person in front of us looking for support.

What can we do to progress personalisation?

Making personalisation a reality everywhere is as much about small steps as it is about grand plans.

We need strong examples and evidence of how personalisation is working on the ground. As a provider we need to continue to develop our personalised support and shout about the impact it is having in mental health.

Improving and developing what we offer, to ensure it is meeting the needs of the people we support, was a key part of these evaluations. We had the chance to learn from staff, service users and others involved in the process. This meant we were able to improve our services along the way.

There is a temptation to think that once we've proved something works, we've done our job. We must resist this. At Together, we'll be rolling out our personalised models, based on what has been shown to be effective. We'll also continue to explore and demonstrate the impact the services are having - in particular, the longer term impact. And we will use these pieces of research to champion personalised approaches when working with commissioners and partners.

The theme of this year's Mental Health Awareness Week is relationships. Our #RelationshipsResolution is to strengthen our relationships with those interested in personalisation. Let's share with each other what we are doing well and what we could do better. There's a good chance we are facing similar issues and we could all learn from one another. Why not get in touch if you'd like to talk to us about our approach, or how we could work together.

Through building a large evidence base of both measurable outcomes and personal stories, and using this to improve our services, we can ensure that personalisation no longer lags behind in mental health.

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