NSUN network for mental health is an independent, service-user-led charity that connects people with experience of mental health issues to give us a stronger voice in shaping policy and services.

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Our Work

NSUN provides information and networking opportunities, promotes self-management, and peer to peer support. It aims to collate up to date and valid information that can be used to inform and influence mental health policy makers and service providers.

A full list of project work can be found here.

NSUN’s vision is to create a strong and influential network of individuals and groups who are communicating and supporting each other across England.

This page provides an overview of our work (some projects are on-going, some have completed, others are awaiting funding). You can read a full list of current projects spanning our work over the last year here and a summary of achievement in 2014 here. If you wish to be taken directly to a particular project's summary, please click on its corresponding in-page link:

A - Commissioning

NSUN seeks to improve service user involvement by supporting people with lived experience to gain proper input into the commissioning of services they use.

Since its establishment under the Health and Social Care Act 2012 NSUN has worked with NHS England, which commissions primary care and specialist mental health services. In particular we have worked with NHS England’s mental health clinical director Dr Geraldine Strathdee on a number of areas including the National Mental Health Intelligence Network (see below), the training of clinical commissioning group mental health leads and a range of events promoting the involvement of people with lived experience.

NSUN is also a member of the Joint Commissioning Panel for mental health hosted by the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Royal College of GPs. With them we have helped develop Values-Based Commissioning (VBC) which aims to properly involve those who use services in arranging their procurement.

In 2013 NSUN produced a report reviewing VBC and in June 2014 in partnership with Mind we produced the Influencing Mental Health Services, guide to Values Based Commissioning.

Through our Mind Community Engagement Pilot scheme, our Mental Healthwatch scheme and through our National Involvement Partnership (NIP) we have also worked with local authority and clinical commissioning group commissioners in Lambeth, Hackney, Suffolk, Newcastle, Bristol, Leicester and others.


B – Work with Black and Minority Ethnic groups

Certain ethnic minority groups are disproportionately over-represented in the more severe end of the mental health system. As a result NSUN seeks to develop better ways of working with service users from these groups and helping to develop better services with them

NSUN commissioned a consultation exploring the involvement of service users/survivors from black and ethnic communities in mainstream user involvement initiatives in mental health. This work was in partnership with Catch-a-Fiya the black and minority ethnic mental health service users network and was the first of its kind which was fully funded, developed and undertaken by service users and survivors.

A report, 'Dancing To Our Own Tunes: Reassessing black and minority ethnic mental health service user involvement' was written by consultant Jayasree Kalathil and launched in March 2009. This was followed by a planning event in July 2009 to agree how to take forward the recommendations. Catch-a-Fiya and NSUN continued working together over 12 months and facilitated a steering group that developed a Business Plan and Charter.

The report was reviewed October 2011 and relaunched at the NSUN Annual General Meeting 1st November 2011 and was reprinted March 2013.

Subsequently NSUN was invited by the Lankelly Chase Foundation to submit a proposal to inform a programme of work promoting lasting positive change in the field of ethnic inequality and mental health (developed by Lankelly Chase and its partners Centre for Mental Health, the Afiya Trust and Mind).

This included:

  • developing a survey (n=50)
  • facilitating three focus groups (n=30)

The project reached a total of 80 people:

  • 40 focus group participants
  • an additional 40 people who filled in the survey online

The core aim of this consultation was to explore the kinds of support and services found to be most helpful to people from BME communities: services and support that might enable people to access help when they need it and so avoid the distress of emergency or coercive routes into services.

The final report included recommendations such as:

  • the need for more funding for small community groups and organisations that offer access to support and important signposting, social and self-help groups that offer a holistic approach to mental health
  • capacity building to strengthen infrastructure
  • focus on the effects of racism in relation to mental health
  • more access to culturally specific psychological therapies
  • culture change within mainstream services


C - Disability Action Alliance

NSUN is a member of this cross sector network of organisations and sits on the steering group which is chaired by Disability Rights UK.

The Alliance's vision is to make a difference to the lives of disabled people by designing and delivering innovative changes and identifying and spreading good practice, especially at local level.
Priority areas for action have been suggested based on the Fulfilling Potential consultation.

The groups meets monthly.


D - Human Rights

NSUN was one of 24 community and voluntary sector organisations participating in the Human Rights in Healthcare Project, led by the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR).

Case studies were collected to demonstrate breaches of human rights in the mental health system. We were able to feed important Human Rights issues into the CQC Mental health Act report as we had case studies concerning voluntary patients (de facto detention) being unable to leave acute units and individuals reporting being threatened with sectioning in secure units without use of any holding powers under the Mental health Act or Code of Practice.

Blanket rules appeared to be over-riding individual rights in the cases shared.
NSUN had input into the production and design of the Mental Health Advocacy and Human Rights Guide and received free training for the team in 2013.

NSUN is named partner in a BIHR bid to the Department of Health’s Innovation, Excellence and Strategic Development Fund (IESD) for the next phase of the Human Rights in Healthcare project.


E - Care Quality Commission (CQC)

NSUN was asked by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to provide service user input into their Mental Health Act Annual Report 2011/12.

This drew on NSUN and the Centre for Mental Health’s report on Service users’ experience of recovery under the 2008 Care Programme Approach.


F - Mapping Care Pathways and Integrated Care

This is a Strategic Partners project being led by the Mental Health Foundation. NSUN’s role has been to establish a panel of 16 people who use mental health services, to draw up a benchmark for what they expect from care planning and an integrated care pathway and to help measure these good practice models against that benchmark, identifying key elements of good practice in integrated care.

Concerns around understanding and process have been resolved and two reports will be produced to reflect the status of the work.

The service user panel produced a definition which will inform the next stage of the work.


G - Mental Health Alliance

NSUN is a member of the Mental Health Alliance. Recent work included lobbying for a review of the Mental Health Act Code of Practice.


H - Mental Health Intelligence Network

The National Mental Health Intelligence Network (NMHIN) aims to support the delivery of improved wellbeing and mental health, and reduce the negative impacts of mental illness, through the use of authoritative intelligence, research and evidenced best practice and economic modelling. NMHIN says it means to ‘put data and informatics into the hands of decision makers to provide the intelligence needed to improve mental health and well-being across England.’

NSUN contributed to the development of a new commissioning tool as part of a panel of experts. This work takes forward the London Commissioning tools programme previously led by NHS London. NSUN has worked hard to ensure that the information we ask the system to collect drives greater service-user involvement, peer support, self-care and a holistic approach.


I - Mental Healthwatch

Mental Healthwatch was launched at the AGM 2013 and had a formal launch event in March 2014. This project’s goal is to join up mental service users and encourage them to get involved with Healthwatch which took over from Local Involvement Networks (LINks) in April 2013. Over 170 people signed up to Mental Healthwatch to date and 50 local Healthwatch organisations have joined.

In April 2014 more than 60 people and organisations joined us to launch our Mental Healthwatch Handbook

We wrote a Guardian article about this which generated more than 360 Twitter shares and 120 comments.

This work is funded by the Strategic Partners Fund. A funding application to further support this work has was submitted to the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) Disabled People User Led Organisations (DPULO) Facilitation Fund but was unsuccessful.


J – Mind community engagement work

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 made radical changes to the structure of the NHS and NSUN wanted service users, new and existing organisations to understand what this meant for those with mental health conditions and how best to involve them. In 2012 NSUN was successful in applying for a £25,000 grant to:

  • Conduct desk research and telephone interviews to scope current local health architecture including Health and Well-Being Boards, Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and local Healthwatch across England and local points of influence for people with experience of mental health problems;
  • Chair eight engagement events in Maidstone, Taunton, Manchester, London, Nottingham, Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool between educating people about the changes and hearing about and documenting their challenges;
  • Design, deliver and evaluate three pilot projects in Lambeth, Suffolk and Newcastle to embed structures for engaging people with mental health problems in the new local health architecture, working alongside local activists and commissioners.

The local influencing events held in the pilot site areas were particularly successful, bringing together representatives from local Healthwatch organisations, Health and Wellbeing Boards, Clinical Commissioning Groups, statutory and voluntary sector providers and the police.


K - Work with the Department of Health

Our work with the Department of Health (DoH) is on-going has three strands:

  • NSUN is a Department of Health Strategic Partner, contributing to improve communication and dialogue between the Department and third sector health and social care organisations across England
  • NSUN also has a place on the Ministerial Advisory Group (MAG) for the Mental Health Strategy
  • NSUN receives funding from the DoH for the National Involvement Partnership (NIP) Project

If you wish to know more about of work with the DoH, please visit here.


L - Peer Support

NSUN recognises the importance of peer support in developing and delivering meaningful and effective partnerships for people experiencing mental distress. The nature of what we do can be described as peer support in it's truest sense. We also have some organised groups that are facilitated to bring people together who have particular interests and issues.

Involvement Workers’ Peer Support & Development group: Meetings are quarterly and held in London. There are plans to have regional/national meetings in the future. The last meeting was held on 31 January 2014. Links have been established with Developers of User and Carer Involvement in Education (DUCIE).

Survivor Researcher Network (SRN)
Following a request from the Mental Health Foundation to host this network, NSUN conducted a survey with members who expressed an interest in research. Jayasree Kalathil produced a report of the findings to support funding applications and support activity for continuation. A working group identified the main aims and objectives for the network. The working group has been updated on progress and the wider network will be consulted on any future developments. This work will also link with the research initiatives, International Aesthetics in Mental Health (Oxford) and the Values-based Practice in Supervision and Care Planning Research Reference group (Cambridge and Lincoln). You can read the SRN summary report and the SRN survey findings.

Peer2Peer is a partnership hosted by Together and supported by NSUN. We work to share knowledge, develop innovative peer support models, build good practice and create strong partnerships with key stakeholders nationally and locally.

Peer Led Peer Support Collaboration: NSUN is a member of a seven way partnership that includes; The Afiya Trust, Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Providers Forum, Mind, St Georges University and Together. The partnership is currently seeking funding to develop grass roots work in identifying the key characteristics of peer support and protection against professionalisation. NSUN funds this work through the Strategic Partners Programme and organizes the partnership meetings. The collaborative was established to forward the implementation of peer support from the perspective of people with lived experience.

Achievements to date:

  • Established a collaborative of seven organisations –Collaboration Agreement October 2012
  • Agreed the priorities for a work programme
  • Mapped relevant joint and individual work
  • Co-written funding bids to deliver on a work programme

Collaboration meetings bring together of a number of existing national initiatives (avoiding duplication and sharing important information) such as:

Afiya’s BME peer support work
Mental Health Provider Forum’s Strategic Partners work
NSUN’s peer support networks: Involvement Workers Peer Support Group, Survivor Researchers Network
Mind’s Peer Support Enquiry – mapping of peer support
St George’s Peer Workers research project
Peer2Peer network
Together's forensics pilot project

A joint statement has been produced setting out the core principles: Interim statement on Peer Support Standards, Business Practices and Peer Led Principles - NSUN and Peer Led Peer Support Collaboration - 2014

Peer Worker Research project: NSUN is a member of the Peer Worker research project steering group for ‘New ways of working in research: exploring and evaluating how knowledge is co-produced within a multi-perspective research team’. This is being led by St Georges University of London.

The full report is still to be published. A briefing paper on the work and initial findings is available.


M - SCIE Co-production Network

NSUN is a member of the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) co-production network.The network supports user, carer and equality groups’ involvement in SCIE’s strategic decision making and provide a pool of stakeholders which SCIE can work with to co-produce projects and programmes.

As well as working with SCIE on specific programmes and projects there are two meetings a year of all the Network members. One meeting is timed to fit with SCIE’s business planning cycle and includes members of SCIE's board. The second focuses on SCIE's programme and product development and involves SCIE’s staff.

The Network produced the Co-production Charter which sets out how SCIE aims to work with people who use services, their carers and equality groups.


N - Survivor Researchers’ Network

A survey was completed with the people on the original membership list held at Mental Health Foundation and NSUN members who expressed an interest in research.
Consultant Jayasree Kalathil has produced a report of the findings to support funding applications for activity & continuation.
A working group identified the main aims and objectives for the network.
Further funding now needs to be sought to progress the work.


O - UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)

NSUN facilitated a workshop to enable the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) to discuss with better ways of involving people with experience of using psychotherapy services in their work. Sixteen people attended. Improving complaints was agreed as the first area to use involvement and a consultation is now underway.

The UKCP published an article from us on the importance of involving people with lived experience in their members’ magazine which goes to more than 7,000 psychotherapists.


P - WISH – Unlocking Service User Involvement Practice in Forensic Settings/Women’s Mental Health Network

The report Unlocking Service User Involvement in Forensic Settings - Commissioned by NSUN, was compiled by Women in Secure Hospitals (WISH) and a draft implementation plan was produced.

This is being integrated into the Involvement and Influencing project.
NSUN was involved in initial sessions that aim to progress the development of the network.
A summary of the network’s rationale and operation was produced.



The NSUN-led National Involvement Partnership is developing new national standards for the proper involvement of people with lived experience of mental health distress. These standards, called 4PI, were officially launched at our annual general meeting.

Funded by the Department of Health over a three-year period NIP has worked intensively in Leicester to develop the standards with service users, the NHS, council, police, voluntary sector and others.

As part of this work a group of East Midlands service users were trained in leadership skills culminating in a presentation to a Leicester mental health conference hosted by Jon Ashworth MP and attended by senior local leaders. As a result the Leicester leaders are now supporting the police and others to develop improvement programmes taking the voice of service users seriously.