By Tom Grice-Jackson, Research Fellow in Health Service Research at Brighton and Sussex Medical School and researcher on the ARC KSS funded project, CATALYST.

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The conference venue at UNIL - Université de Lausanne. It much bigger on the inside than in looks here.

In mid-July, I, and colleagues from the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration, Kent, Surrey and Sussex (ARC KSS) attended the 14th meeting of the International Early Intervention in Mental Health (IEPA14) conference in Lausanne (pronounced “LOH-ZAN” not “LOO-SAN” as I, a silly Englishman, found out on the second day of the trip).

This was the first meeting of association since before the pandemic and everyone was very glad to be back together and to see old friends and colleagues. 

The history of the IEPA (a new member’s perspective)

The IEPA began life as the ‘International Early intervention in Psychosis Association’ (hence the acronym above) in the 1990s. They sought to move treatment of mental illness from a secondary care model - based on rigid diagnostics approaches and high intensity treatments to models that focused on catching and treating cases early through more generalist, or transdiagnostic, approaches - that could be implemented at a lower cost and by a wider range of practitioners.

Mental health is a hard field to succeed in. It is a complex problem that it is underfunded and a low priority for policy and decision makers. However, the IEPA has seen some major successes such as the development and implementation of a new early intervention in mental health service model in Australia, known as Headspace. It makes great use of community-based approaches and single points of access and treatment and has seen some notable success in terms of increased access to services, effectiveness of treatment, and cost-effectiveness. It is now being adopted by groups across the globe such as Jigsaw (Ireland), Foundry (USA), Forward thinking (Birmingham, UK), Youth Wellness Hubs (Canada) and many others.

Key themes and takeaways

The key notes began on the first day with an excellent call to action on the topic of climate change and its impact on mental health by Nobel prize winner Professor Jacques Dubochet. On day two, Sir Michael Marmot gave an excellent speech of the social determinants of mental health using the UK as a case study. He reminded us that the causes and amplifiers of poor mental health exists because of wider social and economic factors that are ultimately based on choices that politicians and societies make about what is important. On day three, Professor Stephani Hatch gave a great talk on using anti-racist practice to addressing inequalities in mental health services which highlighted importance of community voices. Finally, Professor Pat McGorry closed the meeting by looking forward to the future of early intervention research. He led a call to action to address the crisis of poor youth mental health by developing new treatment methods and focusing more in prevention.

Outside of the main hall there was a wide range of excellent talks, posters and symposia. I was glad to see such a great focus on increasing participation through co-production and community partnerships. There was great diversity and innovation in these methods and it was exciting to hear about the range of approaches such as the talks on the use of digital tools. This included: the use of patient data and digital tool; the development of low-cost and scalable interventions based on task-sharing; the mental health impacts of city living (urbanicity); contextual and place-based approaches; and novels applications of methods such as ecological momentary analysis.

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Some of the excellent talks from the conference. [L] Stephani Hatch talking about anti-racism, [R] a panel discussion on mental health interventions in low resource settings, here Dr Dixon Chibanda ‘Friendship bench’ is being discussed.

BSMS and ARC KSS representation

I was very proud to attend the conference in the company of my ARC KSS colleagues, where we were invited to talk about some of the children and young people's mental health research projects that ARC KSS is currently funding.

ARC KSS PhD student and Starting Well Research Fellow, Claire Vella, gave a great talk on the role of group membership, social connectedness and hope for vulnerable young people’s mental health as part of a session on Impact of COVID on mental health. She also presented a poster on vulnerable young people’s experiences of social connection and how it can relate to their well-being and recovery.

Dr Clio Berry, Senior Lecturer in Healthcare Evaluation and Improvement at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, presented a poster on developing a hopeful Intervention for young women not in employment, education or training. Her poster displayed work carried out on the Hopeful study in which Clio and the team co-produced a mental health intervention with young people in Sussex.

And, I delivered a poster presentation on the situational analysis stage of the CATALYST project on young people’s mental health that aims to use co-production to develop and then test a new model for youth mental health services in Sussex and Kent using community-based participatory research approaches. It seems like my presentation was well received and we had some interesting discussions about participatory methods, community development, and the myriad of challenges faced by mental health services.

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Representation from BSMS/Sussex/ARC KSS presentations. {L] my Poster on the CATALYST project, and [R} Claire’s poster on Social Connectedness.

A word on LOH-ZAN

Lausanne is the kind of place that I would never have thought to visit but that I enjoyed greatly.  The city takes all the good bits from the three cultures that influence it. There was the joie de vivre from France, the cleanliness and order from Germany, and the style from Italy (excuse my sweeping stereotypes). The city sits on the wonderful Lake Léman (AKA Lake Geneva). As a keen swimmer, I loved the warm, clear, and calm fresh waters of the lake and took every opportunity to get in. However, it is a remarkably expensive place where your jaw will frequently drop at the sight of your receipts.

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Some pictures I took of Lake Léman. Brighton will always be my home for open water swimming, but I must admit that this had it well beat.

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