Kenny Mackay, Mental Health Commissioner, tells us why East Sussex County Council commissioned Together to deliver Your Way across the county, and how these services help connect people with their local communities.

We chose Together to deliver four Your Way services in East Sussex following a competitive tender process because they offer an exciting model of personalised support that focuses on recovery. They support people to improve their mental wellbeing and maintain this longer term. Individuals are supported to develop their strengths and skills and are linked up with local resources that build on these. Together’s unique selling point is the way that they support people to connect with their local communities.

Previously, mental health services have tended to exist in ‘a bubble’ whereas Together has a great community presence. They open up local connections and help people to engage with others and use local facilities. This offers a two-way benefit to the local community. First, it supports people with mental health needs to build on their skills and develop support networks. Second, it creates greater mental health awareness in the local community, encouraging those not accessing support to seek help.

Together’s unique selling point is the way that they support people to connect with their local communities

In communities where drop-in day centres have traditionally been used and engagement has been low, Together has developed innovative approaches to reach out to people. For example, they’ve helped to set-up local service user-led groups to reflect people’s skills and needs. This includes an allotment group which builds connections between those using mental health services and other locals who tend their allotments in the same space. Together has supported development of a Recovery Kitchen run by service users who want to learn to cook and eat more healthily. They also helped establish a football therapy group which led to formation of a team who now compete locally.

These projects have helped reduce social isolation, commonly associated with poor mental health. Together supports the whole community – reaching out to places where social inequality and deprivation exists, and to affluent areas where people can find it difficult to seek help due to stigma.

They’ve established links with primary care to create awareness and understanding of the Your Way services among GPs. This fits the aims of new commissioning structures which seek to encourage GPs to refer people to non-clinical community based wellbeing services where appropriate, instead of straight to statutory services.

Together offers peer support so people can benefit from the lived experience of others. If individuals want to use their experiences to help others, Together will support them to train as Peer Supporters themselves. 

The benefits of working with a third sector organisation like Together include their local service knowledge and capability to build partnerships. They use local resources creatively and work flexibly with what’s available. They balance high quality support with cost-effective solutions.

Together has developed innovative approaches to reach out to people

Voluntary sector services like Together’s tend to evolve with and be shaped by local need. They support individuals to develop tools to support themselves, promoting independence and reducing dependence on formal statutory support. Their flexibility allows them to respond well to change and emerging challenges.

For example, several service users communicated the need for access to support at weekends. Together pulled together resources and set up a pilot service on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Following its success, they re-negotiated staff working hours to continue running a weekend service. This helped engage new people who hadn’t been reached during the week.

The Your Way model has supported a diverse range of people to recover – individuals experiencing chronic diagnosed mental health needs, and those new to services, experiencing issues like anxiety and depression that impact their daily functioning. Carers are also offered respite and help to recognise symptoms early to promote timely access to support.

There are examples in services, where individuals who have previously experienced crisis 2-3 times a year, have significantly reduced this, in some cases right down to zero episodes. They have learnt to manage their mental health and to take control of their lives.

In addition, Together’s strong partnership work with local primary and secondary care services has helped to keep people out of acute care. Many have been able to avoid the devastating ordeal of being sectioned and hospitalised. Besides reducing the human cost of hospital admission, supporting people to stay at home saves health service costs.

I have seen several cases where people have used Together’s services and become volunteers, peer supporters and then paid members of staff. This is positive service delivery – people are being helped to move forward in their lives and to help others.