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Award-winning mental health service is a “game-changer”, say psychologists

22 December 2021

An award-winning mental health support service for children being treated for long-term physical health conditions is a "game-changer", according to the psychologists involved in it, including chartered BPS member Professor Roz Shafran.  

The Lucy Booth is a drop-in centre that was opened in the reception of Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) as part of a research project to assess the impact of early psychological intervention for these patients. 

It allows children and their parents to self-refer to it at the point of need, talk about their mental health needs, be assessed, receive treatment and/or be referred on to other services where appropriate.  

“As a model, it is not one you would typically find in a paediatric setting and does not duplicate existing services”, according to Professor Shafran, a clinical psychologist and one of the principal investigators of the research project evaluating the service. 

Its impact on patients has been “dramatic and meaningful”, she said, leading to an improved quality of life for children and their families. 

Both Professor Shafran and Dr Sophie Bennett, clinical psychologist on the project, believe the service has been a “game-changer”. The booth offered brief treatments for mental health difficulties like anxiety, depression and behavioural problems. 

“But we could also refer to other services within and outside the hospital for other difficulties such as support with adjustments to coping with the diagnosis of a chronic illness,” said Dr Bennett.  

The innovative part of the project was putting a low-intensity early intervention, evidence-based model into a paediatric hospital setting, Professor Shafran added. 

Nevertheless, the team has been surprised by the huge impact it seems to have made “nationally”. 

Paediatric hospitals around the country have expressed interest in replicating the model and Anna Roach, a PhD student, is currently working on the wider dissemination and implementation of the project. 

The Lucy Project also scooped the Mental Health Team gong in this year’s BMJ awards. 

The project was set up in response to the elevated but often unmet mental health needs of children with long-term chronic conditions.  

Hence the Lucy Booth – the vision of Professor Isobel Heyman, joint lead on the project – was established by GOSH and UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health. 

Named after the beloved comic Peanuts character Lucy van Pelt, who set up her own lemonade stand where she dispensed psychiatric advice to other characters, the booth offered ease of access through provision of drop-in low intensity psychological interventions.  

A study was carried out to assess need and the impact of the intervention involving 186 participants; it found that nearly half – 45 per cent – presented with anxiety, 38 per cent with challenging behaviour, and 28 per cent with low mood, with many experiencing more than one difficulty.  

The research also showed the drop-in centre had made a "significant positive impact", with reductions in emotional and behavioural symptoms of participants, as well as improvements to quality of life. 

The next phase of the project is to work on its wider rollout.  

The drop-in mental health centre project was funded by The Beryl Alexander Charity and Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity. 

You can find out more about the project via MDPI and PubMed.

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