Study aims to improve mental health of male frontline NHS workers

Researchers from the University of York, Hull York Medical School, and University of Keele are working with Movember and NHS Trusts to look at the mental health of male frontline NHS workers.

The BALM research study (Behavioural Activation for Low mood and anxiety in Male frontline NHS workers) comes along at a time of high awareness of the pressures of frontline health work and the potential impact on workers’ mental health and wellbeing.

PCMIS spoke to Kate Bosanquet, BALM Study Lead, to find out more…

What is the BALM study?

Evidence shows that male frontline NHS workers are at increased risk of developing common mental health problems (low mood, burn-out, anxiety, depression) but less likely to recognise it or to seek help.

The BALM study aims to develop, deliver and evaluate a gender-sensitised early intervention programme using behavioural activation to prevent male frontline NHS workers developing common mental health conditions.

How did the collaboration with Movember come about?

We responded to a Movember research call as part of their Veterans and First Responders Mental Health Grant Program – a collaboration between Movember and the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, with additional funding from Gillette in the UK.

Our application was successful and we have worked with them since to progress the study.

Why the focus on male frontline NHS staff?

As an organisation Movember is primarily concerned with raising awareness of and improving men’s health.

Male mental health is an area they are keen to explore and it is established that males are less likely to seek help and more likely to use ‘unhelpful coping styles’ e.g. substance abuse.

Males are underrepresented in those seeking help from psychological therapy services, such as those offered by NHS IAPT services (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies).

A male NHS worker points at a screen to show something to a colleague.

How has the Coronavirus pandemic accelerated the need for interventions designed specifically for NHS frontline workers?

That may have been a factor in Movember deciding to fund this particular work, but this is a long-term intervention to be used beyond the strains caused by the pandemic.

The NHS has always been a workplace with high levels of stress and pressures that might lead to mental health problems.

How do you see the work being done by the BALM study team aligning with the NHS Staff Wellbeing Hubs that launched in 2021?

Our hope is that NHS Staff Wellbeing Hubs will deliver the BALM intervention.

As part of the continued development and refinement of the intervention, we want to ensure it is fit for purpose and works in existing Staff Wellbeing settings.

What next for BALM?

The BALM project will deliver and evaluate the acceptability and effectiveness of the Behavioural Activation intervention, in terms of how their mood and anxiety was affected and how useful they found it.

If the project is successful, then the intervention will be rolled out across the NHS.

Find out more

Keep up to date with the work of the BALM programme.