Better Mental Health Fund: Barnsley

Barnsley is an ex-mining town and has an Index of Multiple Deprivation of 30. It has a population of 243, 341, of which 3.9% are from minority ethnic communities, including Polish and Romanian people.

Barnsley has one of the highest rates of self-harm for children and young people in England and suspected suicides are identified as a huge issue.

For a full description of local needs and assets: Barnsley Joint Strategic Needs Assessment

Identifying the focus of Better Mental Health Fund

The programme sought to target populations that were at risk of developing mental health conditions. As such, the funding was used to provide non-medical approaches that build individual and system capacity to recognise the signs of distress and intervene early. The investment was intended to provide prevention interventions to strengthen personal wellbeing and resilience in the community.

Barnsley has developed governance relating to mental health. There is a Mental Health Partnership led by the Director of Public Health with an Independent Chair. This is supported by a Mental Health Delivery Group, on which the Mental Health Forum, a service user group, are equal partners. These arrangements proved very helpful in identifying the priorities and engaging with service users and providers.

How was the Better Mental Health Fund used?

The Better Mental Health Fund was used for six projects:

  • Workforce training & development for eating disorders in children and young people for front line staff including in schools and GPs
  • Mini forestry project: Planting mini-forests, made up of 600 trees
  • Mental health support groups and drop-in sessions with outreach sessions
  • Physical activity and mental health
  • Healthy peer relationships service: promote and develop whole school/system approaches with the aim of building a better understanding of how young people should treat each other
  • Self-harm training, interventions and resources for schools.

The projects were delivered by a mix of in-house providers – who were running the forestry project and the physical activity project, building on their existing programmes of work – and the voluntary and community sector.

  • The South Yorkshire Eating Disorders Association (SYEDA) provided training and has worked with schools that request it.
  • Humankind provided mental health support groups and drop-in sessions with outreach sessions across the borough for people who were anxious and depressed.
  • The provider for the Healthy Peer Relationships Service was Compass,[3] which offered a pilot bereavement service. They worked in partnership with child and adolescent mental health services through a single point of access.

Mental health support: Humankind

A particular concern locally was the impact of the pandemic on mental health. Humankind, a local voluntary sector group, wanted to increase its current support groups and drop-in sessions with the focus being on delivering these in the community through outreach. The target audience for the project was anyone living in Barnsley over 18, who was experiencing issues with their wellbeing or classed as having a low-level mental health need. This would eliminate any barriers to accessing a service caused by financial issues. Delivering targeted groups around stress management, anxiety management, managing emotions and self-esteem in a local and easy to access setting would increase opportunity for engagement. Progress was monitored using tools such as PHQ9 and GAD 7 designed to facilitate the recognition of depression and anxiety. Early results from the independent evaluation suggested that because of its close ties with the community, the approach adopted by Humankind was successful.

Impacts on local people

The expected number of beneficiaries was 51,730 and the total achieved was 50,199.

Sex, age and ethnicity were noted in only 68% of the beneficiaries, which makes drawing firm conclusions difficult. Within the confines of the data we have, we can see engagement amongst 5- to 17-year-olds, 18 to 25s, and the over sixty-fives, in line with the focus of the projects, suggesting that the targeted approaches had an impact.

Overall, the projects managed to engage residents living in areas in the top 30% of the most deprived in England – 54.9% of the population; 67% of beneficiaries – but they did not engage a proportionate number of people in the top 10% most deprived. This suggests that there was less penetration where socioeconomic need was most acute. Working effectively with the most financially excluded communities within the timeframe was a challenge for several of the sites.

The funding provided opportunities for organisations to carry out their visions and provide interventions to residents struggling with their mental health. The funding also provided staff with more resources. For example, the investment in Humankind was used to provide outreach to people and communities that might not otherwise access support. The investment in SYEDA allowed staff to deliver training to the non-specialist children and young people’s workforce for early identification of eating disorders and disordered eating.  

The training initiatives were aimed at building capacity, particularly within schools, to better support young people. The health outcomes from planting trees include improved air quality and access to green spaces.

Young people were involved in commissioning the projects which is part of an overarching move towards coproduction and codesign.

What have we learnt?

Local authority teams differ in terms of skills and capacity and this needs to be considered when commissioning pilots and evaluating outcomes. Sufficient lead-in time can be needed to mobilise projects, which is dependent on the skill and expertise of providers.

It is evident that some of the projects will have a legacy. The clearest example of this is the mini forestry project, which is creating a green space that can be used by local communities after the project ends. The two projects delivering staff training should provide a legacy of staff more confident to have conversations about eating disorder and self-harm. The local authority is having to make efficiency savings and this will have a bearing on the future of the projects.

Local evaluation

Manchester Metropolitan University are evaluating both the community outreach groups and the eating disorders training, building a strong qualitative strand to provide insight alongside analysis of performance data. The local evaluations have demonstrated successes across the suite of projects. For example:

  • Umbrella Community Wellbeing successfully extended its existing mental health support into the most deprived areas of Barnsley.
  • Harmless, which offered training to raise awareness about self-harm, demonstrated that participants were more confident in relation to identifying and supporting young people after engagement with the project.
  • Healthy Peer Relationships project was successful in supporting 12 primary and secondary schools to achieve school-wide culture change in relation to bullying.
  • Miniature Woodland project successfully engaged local people to plant 7,283 trees.
  • SYEDA delivered training to 250 professionals to improve knowledge and skills in relation to eating disorders in children.

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