More than just feel-good stories, a new study has found that reading about other people’s mental health experiences can help individuals on their path to recovery
There’s a snappy saying: ‘You’ve got to see it to be it’. Essentially, it’s a lot easier to work towards something if you can see how others like you have done it, too. And that makes sense – of course, it’s easier to set out on a journey when the path is already cleared. Now, a new study, published in World Psychiatry, has found how that concept could make a real difference when it comes to mental health recovery.
In research led by experts at the University of Nottingham, it has been found that personal accounts of how people have overcome their struggles with mental illness can be effective in helping others with similar experiences improve their quality of life.
1,023 participants – each with common mental health problems such as mood and/or anxiety disorders and stress-related disorders – from across England were recruited for the study. The researchers developed the Narrative Experiences Online (NEON) intervention, which is a web application hosting a collection of more than 600 recorded mental health recovery narratives. For the study, half of the participants were given immediate access to a collection of mental health recovery narratives, and the other half were given access 52 weeks after signing up for the trial.
The results found that the 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.
“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,” says Mike Slade, Professor of Mental Health Recovery and Social Inclusion, at the University of Nottingham. “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 uses this lived experience of what it’s actually like to live with, and live well with, mental health problems.”
While the changes in participants following the study were relatively small, it was noted that when compared to the cost to the NHS in order to achieve these results, the NEON Intervention was around one-third of what the NHS would routinely pay.
“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,” explains Dr Stefan Rennick-Egglestone. “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.”
For now, Happiful hosts hundreds of personal stories on happiful.com, covering a broad range of mental health experiences which are available to read at any time.
With a look to the future, offering a variety of avenues towards recovery is a step towards accessibility. And while, for many, traditional therapy plans will remain an important part of mental health treatment, exploring alternative strategies will open the door to many.