The contribution of the voluntary sector to mental health crisis care in England

Many people who experience a mental health crisis sadly find that the right emergency care is not there when they need it most. Rather than accessing care from statutory services such as the NHS or local authority, some turn to charities and voluntary groups for support. However, there is currently a lack of understanding around the services offered by the voluntary sector, which this projects seeks to address.

This important research has been funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to investigate the role of the voluntary sector in providing mental health crisis care in England. 

Please see here https://www.journalslibrary.nihr.ac.uk/programmes/hsdr/157073/#/ for details of the funding award and the project protocol.

Dr Karen Newbigging on mental health research

Aims of the project

  • Understand the range of crisis support offered in England by voluntary sector organisations (VSOs) and how this varies between places. 
  • Explore how a ‘mental health crisis’ is understood by different and organisations, and how this impacts support offered
  • Understand and make recommendations about commissioning, funding and relationships between VSOs and statutory authorities to improve the support available for people in crisis


Meet the team

The research team is a partnership between The Health Services Management Centre (HSMC) and the Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC) at the University of Birmingham, along with Suresearch (Service Users in Research and Education), and the Open University Business School. The team includes researchers who have lived experience of a mental health crisis. 

Read team profiles ➤

Steve Gilbert: Living with an ongoing mental health issue

Why is this research needed?

In England, research and national reports (such as the 'Right here, right now' report published by the Care Quality Commission) have identified that mental health crisis care provision is inconsistent and inadequate. Many people in crisis are unable to access the help they need when they need it and are dissatisfied with the help they do receive. If not managed well, the experience of a mental health crisis can have a long lasting and negative impact for the individual and their loved ones.

Some people also avoid seeking help from statutory services because of fears related to poor treatment or detention under the Mental Health Act. As a result, the voluntary sector, (also referred to as the ‘third sector’), sometimes provides support for people in a mental health crisis. There is currently a lack of understanding of what kinds of support are offered by the voluntary sector, how widely available they are, and how they relate to the crisis services offered by the NHS or Local Authority.

Project blogs

How does co-production influence research? Part 1

How does co-production influence research? Part 2

Service user involvement in the NIHR Crisis Care Study

Disclaimer: Please note the research is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The views expressed here are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.

Also in 'Voluntary sector research'