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Lead academic: Professor Paul Farrand (Psychology)
Lead academic: Zoe Symons (Psychology)
Press Release!

Mental Health Challenge academic Professor Paul Farrand featured in Daily Mail as part of #headstogether campaign!

UN Sustainable Development Goal
UN Sustainable Development Goal
UN Sustainable Development Goal

Mental Health: The Treatment Gap

Challenge overview

This is a fascinating challenge that will broaden your understanding concerning barriers to accessing mental health treatments. You will gain insight into ways that inform how some of these barriers may potentially be overcome and it is hoped that some of the ‘outputs’ that you produce during the week may actually help to inform some solutions.

The mental health treatment gap represents the difference between the prevalence of a mental health difficulty and the number of people accessing evidence based treatments. With the prevalence of mental health difficulties increasing across the world, the treatment gap is having a significant impact on the individual, their families, society and the economy and places general levels of wellbeing under threat.

Within this Challenge you will work with other students in small groups, each focusing on a particular barrier you identify as contributing to the mental health treatment gap. In doing so it is hoped you will develop a better appreciation of the specific barrier, and be encouraged to consider potential solutions to help improve access to psychological therapies to enhance wellbeing. In 2017, several outputs went on to directly help inform service development and shape understanding or practice of professionals working in this area (for example see the video testimony from Tim Francis, Mental Health Commissioning Manager in the right column of this page)

Grand Challenges 2018

Students had the opportunity to network with a range of external stakeholders and share their perspectives. They were also exposed to the work of clinical researchers and training academics within the Clinical Education, Development and Research (CEDAR) group within Psychology. Members of CEDAR have national roles within the NHS England Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme. These inform and support research, training and service development collaborations helping to understand and improve access to psychological therapies on a worldwide scale with clinicians and academics from countries such as Hong, Kong, the USA, Sweden and Japan.

On Monday 4th June, we welcomed an exciting range of professional and academic speakers. These were Andy Bacon (NHS England lead for Armed Forces Mental Health and Healthcare), Mark Sawyer (Head of Wellbeing Services), Debbie Hicks from the Reading Agency (the Reading Agency inspires people of all ages and backgrounds to read for pleasure and empowerment), and Professor Melvyn Hillsdon from Sports and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter. 

Here is the Mental Health Final Timetable.

Enquiry groups

Following these talks, students worked on projects focusing on one of the 2018 enquiry groups listed below.

In this enquiry group you will be encouraged to explore a range of specific barriers that reduce the likelihood of people from populations, varying by characteristics such as age, gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs and professional backgrounds, seeking treatment for a mental health difficulty. To set the scene, the introduction to this group will focus on specific barriers experienced by Armed Forces Veterans and their family members when seeking mental health treatment from the NHS. However, within your specific group you will be encouraged to follow your own interests and knowledge to identify a specific population of your choice. You will also be encouraged to use your new understanding to inform an output that may help inform wider awareness of barriers or develop an intervention to address patient level barriers for the specific ‘harder to reach’ population your group has chosen. 

Despite significant investments in services to support the wellbeing of university students, service delivery and provision can always be enhanced to close the treatment gap or improve student wellbeing more generally. This enquiry group will give you the opportunity to draw upon the published literature and research in this area. Or indeed your own personal experiences as students may enable you to think about some of the ways you feel the wellbeing of university students could be enriched, services adapted to meet the range of diverse needs placed upon them or service acceptability enhanced. Outputs have the potential to help inform on-going developments and service enhancements in student wellbeing and could be used to help shape or inform development of a University of Exeter ‘Student Wellbeing Steering’ committee that is currently being established. Or indeed directly ignite your own interests to get more involved.     

The number of people seeking mental health treatment places the NHS under immense pressure. Whilst the delivery of psychological therapies must be overseen by the National Institute for Clinical and Health Excellence, there is potential to supplement evidence-based therapy by considering other innovative ways to improve wellbeing. This enquiry group will explore ways in which non-fiction in the form of self-help books based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is currently used to support the delivery of psychological therapies. Additionally, this group will also consider how reading fiction could help people better appreciate issues relating to the experience of their mental health and potentially enhance wellbeing. Outputs have potential to inform national programmes such as ‘Book Prescription’ schemes or local initiatives such as ‘Recommended Reading for Wellbeing’. Dr Johanna Harris (English Department), is currently leading research looking at ways reading could be used to help ease the transition into university life.

Across England, the Improving Access to Psychological programme has invested heavily in the delivery of evidence based psychological therapies through NHS service providers. However, such a narrow focus is not suited to everyone and this is a limitation, especially when other evidence-based approaches exist. For example, the National Institute for Clinical and Health Excellence now recommends the use of physical activity programmes for the initial treatment of milder levels of depression. The focus in this enquiry group is upon examining the use of physical activity, not only for the treatment of depression but also as a way to maintain or enhance wellbeing. This focus may help inform group outputs focusing on areas such as ways to promote physical activity as a treatment for people with mild depression or generally raising awareness regarding the benefits of physical activity for mental and physical wellbeing. 

Photos from Grand Challenges 2017