People are ashamed to admit they have an eating disorder, therefore making it difficult for them to be open and honest about their condition, and access to NHS provision is often only when it is life threatening. The anonymity provided by the online project enables individuals to discuss potentially embarrassing/taboo subjects, increases the possibilities for self-disclosure, encourages openness and honesty, and provides access to early preventative solutions. Therefore we developed a volunteer-led On-Line Befriending Project which enables self-referral by people at risk of or with an eating disorder to be supported by people with lived experience.
The project has been funded through Henry Smith Charitable Trusts, £30,000 per year (currently in our 4th year) – which we believe that this has saved the NHS in preventative care “…in 2011 you saved us at least three times the cost of investment…I estimate the service now saves NHS England…..about £500k per year….”Assistant Director Hardwick CCG. This provides a return on investment ratio of 17:1 from NHS commissioners. Initially a pilot project, it is now staffed by one part-time employee and relies on the commitment of our thriving volunteer team; 30 volunteer befrienders and 4 volunteer supervisors. They meet quarterly to review service delivery, supported by our staff member, and service users receive regular evaluation requests to gain their insight into service improvements.
We have developed our service using a mix of technology and face-to-face interaction, to suit the needs of the service users. For example, through the Facebook group peer support is available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. We have seen a rise in referrals, and 122 people received the service, with 6,160 emails sent by volunteers. The use of social media, technology such as Skype and emails means that the service can now be extended to reach more people, regardless of their location. We are built upon a strong foundation of service user involvement. Current and potential service users identify what outcomes they want us to deliver, and volunteers are actively involved in monitoring and evaluation.
We undertake the following:
(a) Quarterly review of steering groups via questionnaire and focus groups.
(b) Warwick and Edinburgh Mental Health Well-Being tool to track progress
(c) Annual survey of service-users and volunteers measurements
(d) Six monthly service review
Our extensive service-user feedback confirms that befriending makes a positive impact, supporting sufferers away from negative eating habits towards positive coping mechanisms:
•”Over the years I have received a lot of different help from doctors and many different health professionals (NHS but also private)…befriending is by far the best decision I ever made”
•”I have found that through talking to my befriender I have become more open and able to talk about how I am feeling, this has extended…into my family life…I have also learned new ways of coping with feelings and new ways of looking at things in a more positive way”
In 2016/17 :-
•75% of volunteers reported that volunteering had provided a positive distraction from their eating disorder and by helping others they had helped themselves;
•90% of volunteers report an increase in confidence, self-esteem and mental well-being.
•94% reported their volunteering activity had been of great personal benefit and aided their recovery from their own eating disorder;
• 93% felt the project made a significant improvement to their quality of life and ability to cope with their eating disorder;
•88% felt the project reduced their feelings of isolation;
•100% said their befriender helped to encourage and inspire them, to think differently, and show that recovery was possible;
In 2016 we received the Queens Award for Innovation and in 2017 the GSK Impact Award Top 10 Charity in England for making a positive impact in community health services. We are exploring the expansion of this award-winning service model towards a blended digital model which aims to widen participation. We will enable our service users to be supported by both conventional face-to-face and new digital tools (such as Technology Enabled Care Services, WoeBot apps) that provide self-care by elevating anxiety and depression preventing crises and deterioration through a co-produced care plan that prevents emergency in-patient.