We enable people in crisis to raise issues with service providers so their care and treatment meets their needs; supported by volunteers like them.
We currently run seventeen Linkworking peer support sessions a week on Croydon’s mental health inpatient wards at the Bethlem Royal Hospital and in Croydon’s community Mental Health resource centres. After sessions, we run handovers with ward / service managers where we raise over 4,000 issues each year to ensure service user immediate needs’ are addressed. `The Linkworkers Project also supports service users to understand their treatment; services available to them; and brings hope during dark and difficult times. Our outcomes and qualitative data provide insight for the CCG and have a positive impact on local commissioning as it enables providers and commissioners to spend strategically through our work to identify the strategic issues, which exist in mental health services.
We introduced a new service called Linkwork Champions in October 2018, to work closely alongside SLaM service leads, ward managers and occupational therapists. Meeting monthly, our champions identify areas of concern and make recommendations for change that have direct impact on people’s recovery and speed up discharge from inpatient services. This works builds on previous learning from our patient engagement work (helping people with mental illness develop a voice in their care).
From April 2018 to March 2019 we reached 2782 vulnerable service users to discuss their care and treatment (an increase of 9% (228) from the year before). We achieve this through 20 to 25 Linkworkers volunteering at any one time. Their volunteer role is to connect with people with a severe mental illness. We train them to ‘Listen’, ‘Support’ and ‘Signpost’ their peers to aid their recovery, improve their wellbeing and reduce their isolation. Peer navigators provide a new tool for the health services, in that we aid recovery (whilst costing far less than statutory interventions).
Our peer navigators (like the service users they meet) have recently or are currently using the same mental health services provided by South London and Maudsley NHS Trust (SLaM). Most volunteers join after encountering this project themselves. People are given back their dignity – we give them time to talk about the confusion of thoughts and voices in their heads; anxieties and worries that will not leave them and delusions of paranoia. Linkworkers are not judgemental – they experience these same symptoms too.
What are the problems or issues that this project addresses?
Linkworkers meet with people with a severe mental illness; the most vulnerable people in our communities. Most are sectioned on locked psychiatric wards, isolated away from friends and family. Psychiatric wards can feel clinical and cold environments and are noisy, lonely, scary places, filled with tension. Many service users pace up and down ward corridors like caged animals; often forced onto a regime of powerful medication, which sinks them into vegetated state.
Our Linkworkers break the monotony of ward life – for many on the ward, Linkworkers are the only visitors they get. Psychiatric wards are merely containment areas where doctors medicate people in severe crisis or psychosis. They are not effective at supporting vulnerable people to move towards recovery (they struggle due to underfunding of mental health services and staff shortages).
Linkworkers are able to connect with service users because of their own lived experiences. People with mental illness die 15 to 20 years earlier then people without an illness. People with a mental illness, particularly men, dis-engage with health services (GPs, hospital and even dentists). Most service users also struggle with finances due to additional issues and then use cigarettes, drugs and alcohol to self-medicate.