In this blog for researchers, policy makers and people with lived experience, Dr Antonis Kousoulis, Director at the Mental Health Foundation, and Professor Rachel Churchill, Co-ordinating Editor at Cochrane Common Mental Disorders, reflect on their partnership and hopes for making the best evidence available to support real-world policy, practice and awareness-raising in public mental health. This blog is one of a series on Evidently Cochrane, #YoungMindsMatter.
Our mental health is fundamentally shaped by the conditions in which we are born, grow, live and age. The rates of mental health problems have remained high for several decades and whilst we have seen a lot of innovation in services, care and digital products, we haven’t managed to address the very high numbers of people who experience distress every single week. To tackle this big challenge, a focus on prevention and taking a public mental health approach is necessary.
The Mental Health Foundation (the Foundation) takes this public mental health approach to prevention, finding solutions for individuals, those at risk, and for society, in order to improve everyone’s mental wellbeing, starting from a young age. The Foundation recently shaped a new 5-year strategy to have a clear focus on this approach. To be able to keep delivering our ambitious influencing strategy in shifting public attitudes, informing practice design, and achieving policy change, we need to work in partnership with a variety of groups and organisations who share this mission.
The partnership between the Foundation and the Cochrane Common Mental Disorders Group is one that makes clear sense. One is a 70-year old organisation routed in achieving real world impact and campaigning for change, the other an internationally renowned organisation focused on generating the best evidence to answer questions that really matter to people. Positive change in the real world should be based on evidence.
A partnership like this is one that takes a modern approach where a charity can be an equal partner to an academic centre and together co-create research, produce accessible content, share decision-making and achieve outputs. There is so much that we can both learn from each other. From better understanding of what people need to know and generating the best available evidence to answer their questions, to translating this information into meaningful policy and practice change. And from sharing and developing talent and resources to increasing our scope for influencing.
Our key principles
There are a few key principles and values that we share and that are at the core of our partnership. Involvement of people with lived experience is at the heart of how we aim to work in both organisations. We see involvement not in a tokenistic way, but with a meaningful, co-productive lens, working in equal partnership with young people, as well as people across the life course, to understand their priorities and to shape the important questions for research. As part of our collaborative activities, youth participation workshops, co-creation and consultations with experts by experience will all play a significant role.
Another key area of focus for us is how our approach, rooted in evidence, is standing strong in a space full of competing interests. When it comes to individuals making healthy choices for their mental health and wellbeing, and policy makers making good decisions for societal mental health, we live in a “polluted” environment. Various commercial and other actors often prevent people from making properly informed choices and decisions. We want to ensure that there is a strong competing voice for good evidence, and that we are recognised, jointly through our partnership, and as individual organisations, as a trusted source of information.
Improving lives for young people
Since the launch of our partnership in June 2019, we have already worked together to bring strong evidence to decision-makers. Our joint “State of a Generation” report saw us working together with young people to prioritise what is important to them when it comes to prevention and mental health and provides a starting point on how preventative activities can be implemented in working with young people.
We have also worked together to publish a systematic review on the use of methods and scales to measure the impact of preventative interventions. There is a big gap in this space in public mental health, as several organisations at a community level deliver really valuable programmes helping people staying mentally healthy but don’t have the expertise or tools to measure the impact they are having and make a case to commissioners.
Our collaborative work has also included activities like running focus groups with children and young people to support the identification of Outcomes are measures of health (for example quality of life, pain, blood sugar levels) that can be used to assess the effectiveness and safety of a treatment or other intervention (for example a drug, surgery, or exercise). In research, the outcomes considered most important are ‘primary outcomes’ and those considered less important are ‘secondary outcomes’. for a In systematic reviews we search for and summarize studies that answer a specific research question (e.g. is paracetamol effective and safe for treating back pain?). The studies are identified, assessed, and summarized by using a systematic and predefined approach. They inform recommendations for healthcare and research., co-organising an international conference on digital mental health and prevention, and co-hosting a roundtable looking to understand the evidence behind the use of image-editing apps by young people and their impact on mental health. The next few months will see us committing to further collaborative work, jointly shaping priority questions and areas of work, and focusing our plans for influencing decision-makers.
Do get in touch to find out more or to propose ideas for our partnership, as we keep working to ensure we bring the best information to people, policy makers and practitioners.
Join in the conversation on Twitter with @AKousoulis @ChurchillRachel @Cochrane_CCMD @CochraneUK #YoungMindsMatter or leave a comment on the blog. Please note, we will not publish comments that link to commercial sites or appear to endorse commercial products.
Declaration of interest:
Antonis Kousoulis reports personal fees from Mental Health Foundation, from null, during the conduct of the work. Rachel Churchill reports grants from NIHR, during the conduct of the work.