A new study, led by experts at the University of Nottingham, has found that personal accounts of how people have overcome their struggles with mental illness, have been shown to be effective at helping others with similar experiences to improve their quality of life.
The NEON study, which is published in World Psychiatry, is the first mental health trial in the world to report findings on an intervention making use of mental health recovery narratives. The method was also found to be a cost-effective treatment option for the NHS.
The study was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).
“We believe the findings of the NEON study are an important contribution that will shape practice. We found that a recovery narratives intervention was effective at improving quality of life, increased people’s perception that their life had meaning, and was a cost-effective use of NHS resources, so this was a trial with a very positive set of findings,” said Dr Stefan Rennick-Egglestone from the School of Health Sciences, and the Institute of Mental Health at the University of Nottingham, who co-ordinated the study through the Institute of Mental Health.
Narratives describing first-hand experiences of recovery from mental health problems are widely available, but no trial has ever been carried out to investigate whether they can benefit people experiencing their own mental health struggles. The researchers developed the Narratives Experiences Online (NEON) Intervention, a web application which was home to a collection of more than 600 recorded mental health recovery narratives.
They investigated whether access to the NEON Intervention, benefitted adults experiencing non-psychotic mental health problems. Participant’s quality of life was assessed 52 weeks after signing up for the trial, by the Manchester Short Assessment.
1,023 participants from across England were recruited for the study, with the most common mental health problems being mood and/or anxiety disorders and stress-related disorders.
Half of participants were given immediate access to a collection of mental health recovery narratives, through the NEON Intervention. Half were given access to the NEON Intervention 52 weeks after signing up for the trial. For all participants, the team then collected some information about them using online questionnaires, both when they first signed up for the trial, and after 52 weeks. This allowed the team to identify any changes that were created by receiving immediate access to the NEON Intervention.
The results showed that people who received immediate NEON Intervention access experienced an improvement in their quality of life after 52 weeks, and an increased perception that their life had meaning. Both changes were small, but still meaningful. Importantly, the cost to the NHS of these changes, when compared to their benefit, was about 1/3 of what the NHS would routinely pay, and so this shows that the NEON Intervention is a cost-effective use of NHS resources. For trial participants who were already using NHS mental health services, the NEON Intervention was particularly cost-effective, in that it saved the NHS money, including through participants spending less time with psychologists or psychiatrists.
Mike Slade, Professor of Mental Health Recovery and Social Inclusion, at the University, said: “Our England-wide study found that personal accounts of recovery recorded by people with mental health problems can improve the lives of others with similar experiences. Our key findings were that the NEON Intervention improves quality of life and meaning in life, and is cost-effective enough that it can be recommended for use within the NHS. We’re very excited about the potential for new approaches to supporting recovery which use this lived experience of what it’s actually like to live with, and live well with, mental health problems.”
Dr Stefan Rennick-Egglestone adds: “As an important part of our study, we looked at the impact of the NEON Intervention on people who had used or never used NHS mental health services. Whilst the NEON Intervention provided cost-effective benefits for all, it was particularly cost-effective for people currently using NHS mental health services, to the extent that introducing the NEON Intervention reduced NHS resource use.”
The full study can be found here.