Young people involved in gangs or at risk of offending can benefit from a radical approach to offering mental health support developed by the charity MAC-UK in three pioneering projects in London, according to a briefing published today by Centre for Mental Health

Meeting us where we’re at, by Graham Durcan, Sally Zlotowitz and Jessica Stubbs, brings together evidence from three projects that worked with young men in Camden and Southwark using the INTEGRATE approach.

The INTEGRATE approach is characterised by engaging young people through activities that they set up themselves and getting referrals through peers and friends. Psychological therapies are offered as part of the activity of the projects alongside help with practical problems such as housing, money and work. And the projects seek to ‘bridge’ young people out to other local services and bring about change in local communities more widely.

Centre for Mental Health spent three years evaluating the three projects. The briefing finds that INTEGRATE brought about notable improvements in many of the young people’s mental health over time. It also helped young people to find work and keep out of trouble. And the projects had a lasting effect on other local services, for example by linking up mental health and youth services and encouraging greater co-production between services and the young people they aim to support.

Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sarah Hughes said: “Our evaluation has shown that MAC-UK’s distinctive approach has given young people who are too often misunderstood and marginalised new hope and better health. We hope that all services working with young people will use elements of the INTEGRATE approach to reach out to those who are too easily dismissed as ‘hard to reach’. And we hope that the evidence we have found will change policy nationwide to recognise the challenges young people face and the opportunity to invest in effective help.”

We hope that the evidence we have found will change policy nationwide to recognise the challenges young people face

MAC-UK Chief Executive Sinem Cakir said: "Our goal at MAC-UK is to transform mental health services for excluded young people, because we recognise that many excluded young people find it difficult to seek help. This briefing paper highlights INTEGRATE's unique aspects of co-production, peer leadership and asset based working, which allow young people to gain a sense of ownership and agency.

“By taking mental health to the streets, MAC-UK is meeting young people where they're at, allowing them to seek help from trusted professionals, in safe and non-stigmatised environments. This is mental health service design fit for the 21st century and we are delighted that the Centre for Mental Health's briefing paper shines a spotlight on an approach that all services could take to meet the needs of excluded groups."

Read the report.