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Case study: Working with service users and carers as co-educators

Understanding what it's like to experience a mental health problem and receive care from mental health services is essential in training the next generation of nurses and mental health professionals.

To support this, the teaching teams responsible for delivering the University’s undergraduate nursing degrees and the postgraduate MSc in Primary Mental Health Care (APIMH) have been involving service users and carers in teaching for almost 20 years.

Why engage the public?

Dr Tim Bradshaw recognised a need to help students to get a real sense of what it is like to experience mental health problems and also accessing mental health services.

Dr Tim Bradshaw and expert by experience teaching on the APIMH programme at The University of Manchester
Dr Tim Bradshaw (Reader) and Kate Crawford (Expert by Experience, HVN) teaching on the APIMH programme

He invited members from the mental health service user organisation the Hearing Voices Network and carer organisation Connect Support to become involved.

"We hoped that having the opportunity to reflect on this would help them to be more empathic towards service users and carers", says Dr Bradshaw.

He observed the teaching sessions and provided feedback about what the students found useful and what might be done differently.

Almost two decades on, the team has developed the original model to one of co-education where members of the academic teaching team jointly deliver workshops with service users and carers to both postgraduate and undergraduate students.

What are the benefits?

The relationship between the teaching team, students, service users and carers creates mutual benefit for all involved.

Working with service users and carers has created a greater respect from the teaching team regarding the unique contribution they make to the programme as 'experts by experience'.

"The course team benefit by working with people who still use services, the students benefit from hearing the experiences of people who have used mental health services but also recovered".

Dr Tim Bradshaw / Reader

For service users working with the University has helped to build their confidence and the Hearing Voices Network now deliver teaching at other Universities and hospitals across the UK, Europe and North America.

"The quality of the teaching and learning we offer at Manchester has been significantly enhanced by this relationship", explains Dr Bradshaw.

"The course team benefit by working with people who still use services, the students benefit from hearing the experiences of people who have used mental health services but also recovered".

One undergraduate student commented: "I have never felt so compassionate for someone in my life as I did when I heard [a service user]’s story it has helped me to connect and empathise more genuinely with service users in practice".

To measure the outcomes of the involvement, the team conducted a qualitative study to explore experiences of collaborative working among service users, carers and academic staff. This was presented at the International Intervoice Conference in Nottingham in 2010 and published in the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing in 2012.

In 2013, they were shortlisted for a prestigious Nursing Times educational partnership award.

The hearing voices app

In 2015, the concept of service user involvement was taken to a wider audience, making the most of new technologies available to help educate and inform.

A member of the academic team developed a mobile phone app, in conjunction with researchers at the University of Chester and members of the Hearing Voices Network, which aims to educate professionals and non-professionals about voice-hearing experiences.

The Hearing Voices app has been downloaded widely both in the UK and beyond and in 2016 the team were again shortlisted for a Nursing Times award.

Members of the Hearing Voices Network and Connect Support continue to make a positive contribution to our students' education, contributing to the assessment of clinical skills and inputting into curriculum review and development.

Dr Bradshaw cites "an honest and open relationship" with participants which is based on "trust and mutual respect" as the basis for the continued success of the initiative.