NHS: Lowering barriers to mental health support (HSJ Award)

HSJ Healthtech Partnership Award: highly commended

Mental health services have been oversubscribed for a long time and this was exacerbated by the pandemic. NHS Gloucestershire commissioned us to help them understand ways they could better meet the needs of people waiting for support.

There were initial ideas around ways a dashboard could be used to communicate, share waiting times and manage people’s expectations. However, this evolved into a new product to help more people get the right support at the right time. The product was developed by our partner MadeTech.


We led a series of research and co-creation activities with children, young people, NHS staff and partner organisations to uncover needs, pain-points, gaps and opportunities. Areas we explored included:

  • How can we start supporting young people sooner before things get really bad?
  • How can we help young people get the right help? What if they need social prescribing, rather than specialist mental health support? How can we help them choose?
  • How can we help young people feel in control of their mental health support, rather than have it be something that’s ‘done to’ them?
  • How can we support young people while they’re waiting?

We went on to prototype and test user journeys, interfaces and content. Content tone and meaning was carefully considered and tested.

What we learnt

We built on previous research carried out locally by NHS Gloucestershire and by NHSX, so we knew a lot before we spoke to any young people. Some of the things our research team didn’t know before we started:

  • It is incredibly hard to persuade young people to talk to you about their mental health. Although the NHS team were aware of this, it still made participant recruitment a challenge - offering non-traditional interview options, like WhatsApp, helped - but the young people we did speak to weren’t shy about telling us what they thought.
  • Almost everyone started looking for mental health support by talking to an adult. Maybe it took them a long time to pluck up the courage, maybe the adult spotted the issue before the young person came to them, but if there was an adult in their life that they could talk to, that’s what these young people did. The internet does not seem to be a starting point for this journey - so if we wanted to get young people help earlier, we needed to start somewhere else.
  • Young people found multiple choice forms a really helpful way of gathering their thoughts about their mental health. We were worried they’d feel too cold or clinical, but we learned that it’s much easier to tick a box than it is to actually type the words about what’s going on.

Following the discovery phase it became clear that there were ways digital could be used to do much more than manage expectations. Although there were many services outside the NHS with support available, people simply weren’t aware of them or how to access them.

So rather than a dashboard it became clear that a support finder would have much more impact. And it would also be much more likely to be used by people with low digital skills if it also worked via SMS not just via a website.

We worked alongside our technology partners as well as clinical and operational teams to prototype and test different ideas.


The subsequent product that we designed, On Your Mind Glos makes it easier to understand and access over 100 mental health support services and gives young people more choice and control in their care. For health practitioners it provides accurate advice and signposting to services.

This means more children and young people are getting the right support at the right time, feel in control of their mental health journey.

It’s been a resounding success. Following a programme of mental health awareness in schools it has now reached over 10,000 young people.

Client feedback

“We wanted to build on our existing feedback from children and young people in Gloucestershire to understand how we could better utilise digital technology to enable quick and easy access to mental health support. Young people repeatedly told us that they were unaware of the services available to them and we quickly realised we needed a single source of truth. 

“Mace & Menter’s rigorous research and user centred design process helped us answer these questions and identified where to invest to have impact. The service they designed is simple and effective.

“Their approach to collaborating with the NHS and great team working has been a really valuable experience for us. They are flexible, open to questions and encourage feedback.”

- Beth Gibbons, Programme Manager NHS Gloucestershire