Access to social capital as an indicator of success for Time to Change

Further funding from the Department of Health and Comic Relief will ensure  that the Time to Change campaign to end mental health discrimination can continue for a further four years. This is great news as there is robust evidence that the campaign is changing behaviour, reducing discrimination and improving public attitudes. But there is more work to be done.

If public attitudes towards people with mental health problems are improving, and if discrimination against them is actually decreasing as a result of the Time to Change campaign, we should expect to see changes in the lives of people with enduring mental health problems. One way in which we would expect to see things change is that it would be easier to maintain existing relationships, make new friends and increase one’s circle of acquaintances as people become more accepting of mental health problems. Even if social networks remain static in size, we would expect individuals to find it more easy to ask for favours or obtain resources via people they know, if mental health discrimination were to decrease.

Over the next four years the Time to Change evaluation team at the Institute of Psychiatry will be measuring whether people with mental health problems will increase their access to social resources via their social networks. The team will interview a panel of 1000 people each year to see if this changes year on year.

The research questionnaire that we will be using to evaluate this is the Resource Generator-UK (RG-UK). I adapted this measure from one first developed in The Netherlands by Martin van der Gaag and colleagues. It’s quite easy to complete (and a bit of fun, if this sort of thing floats your boat!). It’s also got some robust psychometric properties which makes it credible.

To give you some idea of the kind of information the RG-UK provides us with, please see below for a simple chart illustrating inequality of access to social resources for people with mental health problems. The square on the left is from a general population sample whereas the three on its right are from samples of people with mental health problems. It doesn’t take a PhD in statistics to observe the inequality apparent in these figures. For readers interested in the statistics behind this chart, the squares represent means and the lines above and below them are confidence intervals. You will observe that the confidence intervals for the three groups of people with mental health problems go nowhere near the bottom of the general population sample on the left. This illustrates a statistically significant difference in mean access to social resources.

If Time to Change is successful over the next four years, we would expect to see mean scores on the RG-UK increase. While we will not expect them to reach the same as in the general population, we would hope that they would increase a little. Even an increase of 2 points on the scale would make a visible difference in someone’s life and that is well worth the investment announced this week and the tremendous programme of work that goes into the Time to Change campaign.


2 Responses to Access to social capital as an indicator of success for Time to Change

  1. ermintrude2 says:

    I am a great supporter of Time to Change and think it’s doing great work regarding stigma. I wonder though if there is something about the level and type of mental health problems which exist – and I know the study is addressing this. Also what kind of access to social capital is wanted or needed. Is that access the goal of the individual? I work with a few people experienced negative symptoms of schizophrenia or social anxiety and their desired outcomes might be very different. I am also concerned that some of these mainstream mental health campaigns ignore and sideline people with organic or age-related mental health problems.
    But no stigma is much better than stigma so I don’t want to be overcritical. I look forward to the results 🙂

  2. mgoat73 says:

    Absolutely. I don’t advocate a one-size-fits-all policy in terms of social networks and access to social capital. To do so would be incredibly naive. We are finding in the Connecting People study that social connections come about in multiple ways and are often problematic or not desirable. Workers need to be cognisant of both supportive and unhelpful connections and work openly with people to resolve conflicts and identify opportunities for change.

    In the Time to Change evaluation, we will be looking at average levels of access to social capital. If it successfully reduces discrimination, we should see a modest increase in the average access to social capital, although there will be no change for many people.

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