Become a Health Champion
Learn how to become a Health Champion to support people living with serious mental illnesses with their physical health.
Mental illnesses are associated with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. People with mental illnesses are one to two times more likely than the general population to have these diseases.
For people living with serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, their physical health can often be neglected because their care tends to focus on their mental health. Our Integrating our Mental and Physical Healthcare Services (IMPHS) project evaluates the role of physical health support in patients with serious mental illness to improve patient outcomes.
The Health Champions study, a project led by IMPHS, explores whether supporting the physical health of patients with serious mental illnesses will improve their physical health, is looking for volunteers.
What is the Health Champions study?
The Health Champions study is unique. Very few studies like these focus on the invaluable role of volunteers to support the physical health of patients with serious mental illness.
The study is a Randomised Controlled Trial involving two groups. Patients in group one will be offered information on improving their physical health. Patients in the second group will be individually matched with a Health Champion volunteer. The volunteer will support them to set patient-led physical health goals which they will work towards together over nine months.
For example, a patient involved in the study could be someone prescribed antipsychotic medication, who also has diabetes and would like to improve their physical health by reducing their weight. Alongside any usual support the patient would be assigned by their health professional at the Trust, a Health Champion who would support them in setting realistic goals for weight loss. This may also include finding fun local physical activity groups, getting diet support, or supporting them going to the gym.
The study will measure patient health outcomes at three points: before it begins, after receiving support from the Health Champion for nine months or solely information on improving physical health, and then six months after the study has ended. The outcomes will relate to the patients’ physical health quality of life, how in control they feel of their physical health, dealing with both physical and mental health conditions, mental health-related quality of life and loneliness.
What does volunteering as a Health Champion involve?
As a Health Champion, volunteers will be matched with and then asked to ‘buddy’ with a service user for up to nine months.
Volunteers will help the service user decide on personalised goals that relate to their own physical health improvement aims. Volunteers will meet with them on a weekly basis to support them in achieving their goals, virtually whilst it is safest to do so during the pandemic, and with the choice for socially distanced, virtual or face to face means when it is appropriate and safe.
Will Health Champions receive any training?
Health Champions receive full training on being a volunteer and on the importance of physical health, how to support someone to set goals, and coaching techniques.
Support from the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust Volunteer service and the research team is also provided. This includes regular supervision and individual support from the programme’s volunteer co-ordinator. Access to a list of community resources that can support volunteer work is also provided.
Who can volunteer as a Health Champion?
Anyone over 18 can volunteer. Volunteers will need to pass a Disclosure and Barring service check, before volunteering, because the role involves working with vulnerable adults. Volunteers will also need to complete an Occupational Health questionnaire, attend training and supply two references.
All volunteers need to commit for nine months so we can create long-lasting and meaningful volunteering roles.
How do I get involved?
For anyone interested in taking part as a volunteer in the study, have any questions or require more information, please contact:
Isobel Mdudu – Volunteer Services Manager
Ubong Akpan – Health Champions Volunteer Coordinator
We are committed to joining up mental and physical healthcare, training and research to improve health outcomes for our patients and service users. Find out more about the important work we are doing.