The pandemic has helped shine a light on inequality in mental health provision across the Midlands, but it has also highlighted paths forward according to professionals in the region.
Speaking ahead of World Mental Health Day, which highlights the impact of inequality on mental health, professionals in Birmingham and Solihull say the pandemic put huge pressure on young people and the services that support them.
But they say it has also led to changes in how they provide services, insight into who is using them and they have used the international event to launch a new website and offer advice on how little steps can help look after mental health.
Alex Borg, the Executive Director for Mental Health at Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, which leads Forward Thinking Birmingham, said: “The pandemic forced a change in thinking in how we delivered support. Telemedicine was a relative success and we were able to still be there for young people throughout and in between lockdowns.
“But it also raised questions and when we looked deeper, we realised we didn’t really know enough about the people we were trying to serve to truly ensure our services met their needs.”
The service, which provides inpatient child and adult mental health beds and leads Forward Thinking Birmingham, the community mental health service for 0-25-year-olds, focussed on improving how it recognised those it serves leading to an almost doubling in the level of ethnicity data it recorded.
This has provided fresh insight and in turn allowed for better understanding of who is using the service and how to tailor it to their needs.
Alex said: “We have more work to do to understand broader issues including other characteristics such as sexuality, age, where they live and their economic status.
“We are now developing a new flexible approach – tailored choice, an approach not a model. ‘One size fits all’ needs to become a thing of the past.
“We’re working with young people to teach us how best to work with them.
“It’s exciting but we need to move forward carefully.”
Forward Thinking Birmingham has launched a new website, developed with service users, a first phase in providing more tailored support for young people.
We have also welcomed the start of our first Peer Support Workers who will have lived experience of mental health illness, therefore not only aiding with a young person’s medical recovery, but their personal recovery too.
Alex added that the service had benefitted from extra investment in the last 18 months and now had 48 more staff than before but the size of the challenge ahead was significant.
He said: “We have invested more, we have more staff but there’s still a significant challenge.
“We’re doing more to understand how we can improve services and encouraging young people to do the little things to help look after mental health but to seek help when they need it.”