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South West Yorkshire Mental Health Lab

Reos Partners
April, 2015


Discover how the South West Yorkshire Mental Health Lab is testing new, user-driven approaches to mental health services in the UK.


This UK Social Lab brought together mental health practitioners and service users in an innovative attempt to bridge the traditional divide between them—and ultimately to change the culture of the system and deliver better care. Participants included doctors, psychiatrists, district nurses, district managers, caregivers, and people with mental health issues.

After developing a common awareness of problems with the delivery and evaluation of services, the group began to see the potential for a new ecology of services that would put service users’ needs at the center. During the modeling phase, teams developed a number proposals, eight of which were taken forward. Those eight are now developing at their own pace. Already, participants see a boost in morale, more transparency, a sense of empowerment among service users, and growing awareness and knowledge of health, well-being, and the local health system.

“I believe the Social Lab has now developed into an effective programme that will bring about improvements to our organization,” says Paul Smith, staff side chair and member of the lab’s Thinking with Your Heart group. “What comes out of it could be transformational.”


The South West Yorkshire lab was convened in response to broad changes in the range, coverage, and configuration of services provided by the UK’s National Health Service Foundation Trust. Reos designed and facilitated it in partnership with the trust and the Leeds University Centre for Innovation in Health Management.

The Challenges

The lab aims to create a system that keeps outcomes and services users’ aspirations at the fore. The question at the center: “How can we work more creatively with people in our communities to live life to the full?”

Service users often felt hopeless about the very services meant to help them. When professionals made decisions about their treatment without consulting them, they felt disempowered and disrespected. They wanted more involvement and more communication—providers needed to explain complex terminology in terms they could understand. In some cases, service users had even set up their own self-help groups rather than deal with medical professionals. In their own groups, they felt the empowerment and self-esteem that was missing from their interactions with the system.

As for the health care providers, they were expert listeners, but their professional lenses made it difficult for them to see from the service users’ point of view. They had to learn to suspend judgment. That is, they had to mentally table years of training in how to perceive—i.e. diagnose and treat—their patients.


Eight prototypes are in development:

New Service (ideas) Incubator

The goal of this prototype is to create a culture of continuous service improvement and innovation. It’s a channel by which feedback and ideas from everyone in the system can be captured, discussed, evaluated, and supported.

No Decision about Me without Me

This prototype supports the desired change in culture. It is identifying and establishing methods for ensuring that service users have real influence over decision making in the commissioning and provision of services and care.

Thinking with Your Heart

An exploration of how to create a working environment that helps staff put service users first. The focus is on reconnecting staff with their core values and addressing staff attitudes, burnout, absence rates, and stress.

Integrated Health and Well-being Navigator Model

The task here is to help people navigate into, through, and out of the system by integrating paid staff, volunteers, and information technology.

Operation Demist

This entails the development of a booklet for people who are using mental health services for the first time. It will redress the balance of power by answering questions that people do not always feel they can ask providers.

Storey Circles

Storey Circles encourage and build on the lab experience of sharing stories within a diverse group of people. One benefit is the breaking down of “us” and “them” barriers.

Krafty Koffee

Local Krafty Koffee clubs empower people to set up peer support and self-help groups and, when appropriate, access funding.

Breaking Down Barriers to Well-being—Museum Project

The proposed museum, by documenting real-life experiences, aims to get people thinking about mental health and break down the stigma that surrounds it.


“It’s been really exciting to be able to go and just try something to see if it works. Sometimes all the processes and form filling out can really take the creativity and energy out of work that is genuinely trying to improve things.”

Workshop participant

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