Case study

Mental Health and Wellbeing Information Service (MHIS)

Suffolk libraries' service provides up-to-date and reliable information about mental health and wellbeing.

Event organised by Suffolk MHIS. Photo credit: Suffolk libraries
Event organised by Suffolk MHIS. Photo credit: Suffolk libraries

Contribution to corporate priorities

Suffolk libraries’ Mental Health and Wellbeing Information Service (MHIS) supports several areas of the Suffolk county council’s joint health and wellbeing strategy. This includes aiding prevention of ill health and mental ill health by encouraging Suffolk residents to become more active, and lead healthier lives with a better understanding of the links between physical and mental health. There are currently many activities the public can attend in Suffolk Libraries which fit into this agenda, including: Top Time (activities for older people), New Age Kurling (low impact indoor sport), adult colouring sessions, and many parent/carer and child activities. The MHIS aims to further advertise these groups as being beneficial for wellbeing and also to develop and deliver new groups, events and activities to support the strategy.

Part of the strategy is also to ensure Suffolk residents have the opportunity to improve their own health and wellbeing by sustaining and building seamless partnerships between provider organisations, helping decrease stigma and increase involvement in, and understanding of, mental health. The MHIS aims to support this by raising awareness of the support and information that not only the library service provides, but also of that from the multitude of provider organisations across Suffolk.

Description of the work

The MHIS is funded by the mental health pooled fund (a fund shared by Suffolk’s clinical commissioning groups and Suffolk county council) and works closely with mental health commissioners and multiple mental health and wellbeing organisations, both nationally and county wide. These include Suffolk Mind, Action for Happiness, Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), ActivLives, Julian Support, Suffolk Wellbeing Strategy, Age UK and local schools and colleges.

The first aim of the service is to provide up-to-date and reliable information for the general public in regards to mental health and wellbeing support. They maintain many lists, with links to access support, information on events and activities (both in the libraries and in local communities) and recommended books, including those from mood boosting and the Books on Prescription scheme.

Recently, the service has also expanded to attending, supporting and providing various events, projects and activities around mental health and wellbeing.

These include supporting Men’s Mental Health week by working with Suffolk county council, Suffolk Mind and African and Caribbean Men’s Health Forum amongst others, to provide events around health and well-being for men and to promote local services.

Suffolk libraries was one of the first organisations to be accredited with the Suffolk Information Standard (established by Suffolk Healthwatch) in recognition of providing reliable and up-to-date information on health, care and well-being.

Suffolk libraries are a leading player in the development of the Warm Handover project: a partnership of organisations working to assist people in finding the help they need. As part of this partnership, if one organisation believes someone would benefit from the services of another organisation they can make referrals, which means people do not have to repeat their stories to multiple organisations and also helps them access services of which they might not have been aware.

Working alongside Suffolk Family Carers (SFC), they supported a tour of the SFC bus around libraries, which increased awareness of their services and engaged many customers across Suffolk who were previously unaware of the support available.

The MHIS also set up a weekly mental health group, called Open Space, within Ipswich library which has seen great success. The group is staffed and supported by a partnership between Suffolk Libraries, Julian Support and NSFT. The aim is to create an open area within the library for people to drop in and talk about mental health and wellbeing topics. Refreshments and activities are provided. The group is a great way of helping those with mental ill health to feel part of their local community, build confidence and trust in local services and to aid reintegration.

Outcomes achieved

General statistics:

  • between April 2014 and March 2015, a four week sample demonstrated 154 health and wellbeing enquiries through Suffolk libraries, which extrapolated, equates to 2054 enquiries a year
  • between April 2014 and March 2015 there were 995 opportunities and activities for people with mental ill health, physical disabilities and learning disabilities referred by other agencies, to support getting (back) into work
  • during a recent customer survey of 1658 participants, 14% said they come to the library because it is a safe space

Open Space Statistics:

  • during March – July 2014 there were 339 recorded individuals taking part in the group
  • feedback in 2014 demonstrated an improvement in wellbeing, confidence and a break in isolation for attendees
  • on average around 20 people attend Open Space each week, though there has been a steady increase over the last few months and a maximum of around 50 attending one week in December 2015

Sample of recent Open Space attendee questionnaires:

Question: What do you think of Open Space?

  • “It is helpful to all people with Mental Health”
  • “Brilliant”
  • “Helpful and people friendly”
  • “Very helpful and lets you voice your opinions on a subject and gain a better understanding”
  • “I think it’s a great group for individuals that don’t have friends, maybe feeling lonely, somewhere to have a chat and make new friends”
  • “A great place to meet friends and learn other triggers of mental health”

Question: What has been most helpful?

  • “Lots of humour amongst participants – everyone is happy. Knowledgeable staff”
  • “Getting together”
  • “Listening to the person talking / conversations, because you learn”
  • “Somebody to talk to afterwards if you have any concerns”
  • “Being with other people”
  • “Meeting new friends”

Case Studies 2014-2015

A local sports coach contacted the service after finding the MHIS details on a leaflet in the library. They had concerns about a team player, who appeared depressed, was self-harming, taking drugs and was homeless. The MHIS coordinator was able to signpost a local GP, drug/alcohol treatment services, and support for depression and self-harm. Within a week the coach had encouraged the player to visit their GP, they had seen a GP link worker, visited a housing provider for emergency accommodation and had an appointment with Turning Point (providing drug/alcohol treatment).

Library staff were able to help reduce isolation for an elderly lady, by teaching her how to use her IPad. She is now able to email friends and Skype her daughter in China and son in Devon.

A customer who had been caring for her husband for 8 years completed a Warm Handover through her local library, after struggling with his rapidly deteriorating condition. Within a few days she was in contact with Suffolk Family Carers and Age UK, who were able to offer her support and advice during a very difficult time.

A customer attended an Action for Happiness workshop and contacted the service afterwards to let us know as a result they will be looking into attending a local Mental Health support course (Headspace). After suffering with depression and anxiety, not being able to get work, family bereavements and serious illness the event helped the individual to find other means of support and encouraged them to look at their anxiety around working. They were very motivated by the event and keen to return to similar events in the future within the library.

A member of the public emailed the MHIS coordinator, expressing concerns for the wellbeing and life of a friend and asking for advice on how/where to get help from. The email was raised with our safeguarding lead and general advice was given, as well as recommending emergency services if the person felt a genuine and immediate concern for the safety of their friend. They responded thanking us for the help and stating it had been very helpful.

Accomplishments and lessons learnt

We believe that Suffolk is currently the only library service commissioned to offer this service, with an in-house coordinator, paid for by the contract.

One of the lessons we have learned is the need to publicise to people with a mental health issue on how to keep well through their use of libraries. We also need to ensure that all health practitioners are aware and engaged in this new approach. We want to offer a social space which is open and integrated into the community to build resilience. This is also a change of approach for workers, as previously they have been operating in enclosed and separate settings, but change is happening.

A press release was issued in early 2016 about the service and further press releases have been discussed to help advertise the service’s relaunch.

Future plans

The MHIS is currently awaiting confirmation of 2016-2017 funding. The funding proposal submitted has included extending the in-house mental health and wellbeing support groups and activities to cover a wider range (including specific activities on men’s mental health, refugee women, children and young people and those struggling to find or stay in work). The aim is to facilitate the Open Space format in at least two further libraries.

The service also aims to apply for external funding to support community engagement, reduce stigma and increase its link with the arts and wellbeing.

To aid awareness they are currently beginning the process of branding and renaming the service, to give it a more recognisable and user friendly face.

Additional resources

MHIS website please note, the site is under construction and more resources will be added during early 2016.

Suffolk mental health and wellbeing co-ordinator on twitter

Youtube channel - including videos constructed from the Action for Happiness project

Contact for further

Published 15 January 2016