This study explored in detail the value of the approach of the voluntary sector in responding flexibly and with compassion and kindness to people experiencing a mental health crisis. The value of the voluntary sector is increasingly recognised by policy and there has been a significant investment in mental health crisis support provided by the voluntary sector since 2015. This policy and associated investment is largely focused on voluntary sector organisations proving an urgent response to people in crisis. Whilst this is clearly important, the study highlights how the potential contribution of the voluntary sector is much broader than this, with different types of voluntary sector organisations having a key role to play in prevention and in recovery, with skills, expertise and networks that are not readily available in the public sector. However, the study found that the understanding of the voluntary sector by public sector services could be limited and the authors call for an improved understanding of their  contribution in tandem with developing a system of crisis support that better responds to a wide range of needs of people experiencing mental health crisis, their families and carers. Of crucial importance is a crisis system that enables people to address the factors that contributed to the crisis, rather than narrowly framing a mental health crisis in terms of risk or mental illness. The implications of the findings for policy, mental health services, the voluntary sector and research are detailed.

This study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) HS&DR programme (project number 15/70/730. The full report, with supporting documents, is available  to download.

Further information from the Chief investigator: Dr Karen Newbigging