Mental health is everywhere at the moment. Whether it’s a celebrity sharing their own personal struggle, a campaign group calling for more funding, or stories about NHS services in ‘crisis’, mental health is seldom out of the media spotlight.

But, often, what fails to hit the headlines is the good news. The success stories, the remarkable difference dedicated, professional and passionately committed mental health staff achieve on a daily basis for and with their patients.

Most of the time, their ideas and innovations are simple - we’re not talking about huge clinical breakthroughs here or brand new patient pathways (although we’ve had some of those as well). We’re talking about the small, and the simple, sometimes the humble. And while by their nature they don’t tend to grab headlines, it’s often the fact that they're small and simple that makes them so very effective. That’s why they make such a huge difference to the lives of people living with a mental illness.

Sharing innovation successes

We believe in sharing good news. Not to blow our own trumpet and not for vanity but because we can all learn from each other, and because success gives us hope. Hope that an illness can be beaten. Hope that you’re not alone. Hope that someone understands. And hope is a key part of recovery.

That’s why we’re so proud of our Sussex Recovery College. Recovery colleges use an educational approach that champions individual strengths and empowers service users to find their own solutions to their difficulties. But our courses aren’t run by ‘teachers’. They’re run by doctors, and people with lived experience of mental health.

Recovery is such an important concept in mental health. It’s not just about getting better and getting rid of symptoms. It’s a deeply personal journey that involves understanding how you think and feel. It’s about knowing what your goals are and how you can achieve them. It’s about learning to recognise the warning signs and how you can manage them before things get out of hand.

So our clinicians run courses alongside peer trainers - people with lived experience of mental health issues. It’s an equal, reciprocal partnership based on trust and respect for each other’s knowledge and skills.

Students confounding cynics

We have students, not patients, and we equip them with skills and knowledge to help them take back control of their lives. It’s amazing the turnaround you see in people if they’re given the right information, by the right people, in the right way, at the right time.

Cynics say the idea of a recovery college sounds like a way an NHS that’s bursting at the seams can delegate responsibility for care back to patients. When we hear that – and we’ve heard it a lot - we let our patients do the talking for us. Their stories of recovery and hope soon cut that argument down to size.

And we also let the statistics speak for themselves.

Students registering with our recovery colleges are less likely to find themselves back in hospital. We’ve studied it and that’s simply a fact.  Bed days and Sections under the Mental Health Act are all reduced as well. And while we put patient care top and centre above everything else, the by-product of this approach is that it does save the NHS money.

In fact, when we’ve quantified it in the past, the impact our recovery college has on our students in terms of their long term recovery saves the NHS more than £1,000 per patient per completed course, per year.

Startling isn’t it?

'Co-production is the way forward'

Student satisfaction is also staggering. Ninety-six per cent of our recovery college graduates rate the courses as good or excellent, and 97% would recommend them to a friend. The number of courses we’ve been able to offer has increased over the years as well. We’ve gone from offering 52 when we started in 2014, to 191 now. And student numbers have gone from 1,805 completing courses in 2014 to 2,938 in 2017.

We know locally that it’s working, and we’re linking with other recovery colleges across the country to share our findings and feed into the growing evidence-base that co-production and peer supported recovery is the way forward for mental health services. We’ve even been to Boston to talk about our successes.

We’re not saying that recovery colleges are the solution for everyone. They’re just one of a range of interventions, but used together the results are significant and startling and, we think, speak for themselves.

How does this story make you feel? Join our Twitter chat at 12pm today, Wednesday August 16, to share your ideas and experiences around co-production, using the hashtag #mhtchat.

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