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Issue 03

Summer 2019

Prescribe yourself a story

Can sharing personal accounts of recovery from mental health problems help others?
Vision In focus Prescribe yourself a story

Can sharing personal accounts of recovery from mental health problems help others? An unprecedented online trial aims to find out.

Social media has become a familiar platform for people to publicly share the most personal of stories. Insights into how someone coped with and overcame mental health challenges are just a search and click away. 

Could these personal accounts of real-life recovery from mental health problems help people in the midst of their own crisis? 

A new study from a team within the School of Health Sciences, based at the Institute of Mental Health, is looking at how collections of stories could be made accessible for people to search online and match their current experiences with those of someone who has recovered from similar distress. The NEON study (Narrative Experiences ONline) led by Professor Mike Slade, hopes to prove that a person who is currently experiencing mental distress could benefit from accessing the story of someone who has recovered from a similar situation. 

Recovery isn’t just about getting better. Professor Slade, a leading international expert in mental health recovery which promotes an individual approach, said: “A person’s recovery story will include feelings of survival, recognising their strengths and successes defined by them (their story’s narrator), and not by the healthcare professional delivering their treatment. It’s about understanding what is meaningful to the person who is recovering and putting them in a position of control.” 

Over the next four years the NEON team will be collecting stories from a wide range of sources, with a focus on stories from people whose voices are seldom heard by mainstream cultures.

A person’s recovery story will include feelings of survival, recognising their strengths and successes defined by them (their story’s narrator), and not by the healthcare professional delivering their treatment.
Professor Mike Slade

This will form the largest online repository of mental health recovery stories in the world. These stories will then form part of a randomised controlled trial to evaluate if people benefit from accessing these shared stories of recovery. 

During the trial, this new online repository will be powered by a machine-learning algorithm, developed through a computer science partnership with researchers at King’s College London. The algorithm’s capabilities and accuracy will be monitored to understand whether it is helpful and how to manage potential harm from people reading the stories – is it better for people to explore the stories themselves? Will everyone only read a small selection of key stories if a reader’s journey through the repository only follows the recommendations of the algorithm? 

Understanding and developing theories of how stories have an impact on people, and if this is helpful and how to manage any harm, will be at the heart of this study. But sharing stories with people who are experiencing mental health problems is not the only way this repository could benefit people’s mental health recovery. The research team are also exploring how these stories could be used as part of the essential training mental health workers receive throughout their employment. This links directly back to the principles of someone’s recovery journey – the person who is recovering should define their recovery, not the healthcare professional caring for them. 

The NEON team are working with research partners, the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences in Canada, to explore how incorporating recovery stories into staff induction training improves their practitioners’ behaviour and attitudes towards a person’s recovery journey. 

Professor Slade said: “We are creating the world’s largest collection of stories from people talking about their mental health recovery. As well as these stories acting as a beacon of hope for other individuals, we plan to use these stories to inform the training of mental health practitioners. Our goal is to provide a powerful and new approach to supporting the empowerment of people living with mental health problems, and to help workers to personalise their approaches to supporting recovery.” 

Mike Slade

Mike Slade is a Professor of Mental Health Recovery and Social Inclusion, School of Health Sciences. He works at the Institute of Mental Health and his post is jointly funded by Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

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