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How To: Make Your Mental Health Activities Safe

How To: Make Your Mental Health Activities Safe

Rachel Hale

We’re seeing a huge increase in the number of VCSE organisations offering mental health activities, and the number of people with complex mental health needs referred to those activities.

Finding support in your local community can make a big impact on people’s mental health and can offer an approachable way for people to build support networks. But it’s important that we get this right.

So in preparation for Safeguarding Week (24-28 June), we asked our Lead Community Mental Health Builder, Rachel, what VCSE organisations can consider when it comes to risk and safeguarding so that you can provide a safe and welcoming space for the people you’re helping. Here’s what she said…

I am super lucky in my role to work with a variety of voluntary and community organisations along with statutory service colleagues. Safeguarding and risk management is a huge consideration when working with specific demographics, for this article I am focusing on working around mental health, wellbeing and support from VCSE organisations.

Have a think about the information you capture from the people you work with

  • Is it basic information such a name, date of birth, their phone number?
  • Now consider what information you’d need if you had concerns about that person’s safety. What if they hadn’t turned up for group a number of times which was unusual, what if they disclosed they had suicidal ideation, or if they had an accident at a session and needed medical care.
  • Would you have the information you needed to respond?

I’ve had discussions with different groups about the amount of information we as the VCSE collect and feel comfortable collecting.

Concerns have been raised about asking too many questions and the impact that has on relationships. About how the VCSE is different and that’s why people come to us.

In my own experience of working for a local mental health charity as a volunteer, much of those concerns can be minimised with clear and honest communication with group members.

If you can explain the reasons for collecting the information, that they will not be shared with others (except in a safeguarding or emergency) it can be reassuring for participants that you can respond effectively in those situations to keep them safe.

Additional information capture

The information you capture may also depend on the activities you do. For example, for bushcraft, woodworking, certain crafts you may decide to ask a question if people are safe with blades, if blades are a trigger, do they have a history of self-harm?

  • If people disclose they have difficulties with blades you can then manage that, provide alternative activities etc.
  • Ensuring risk is managed by logging knives / tools out & in at the start and end of session.
  • If the session involves food you may wish to ask about disordered eating, is food a trigger etc.

In these situations, warning people the session before and saying if anyone wants to chat about the next session to come find you or call or book a chat etc can help to manage risk / safeguarding and allows people to volunteer information.

As an example you might ask for:

  • Mental health diagnosis /medication – alongside any physical health, learning disabilities information.
  • Are they registered with secondary or primary care mental health services – e.g. Drury Lane or Baghill House, Connecting Care team.
  • Do they have a care co-ordinator?(if yes what is their name / contact number)
  • Their home address.
  • Emergency contact – named person and contact number.

You may also build a picture over time about other VCSE groups they attend, triggers etc.

Having these details could make a significant difference in a safeguarding situation. When relaying concerns or raising a safeguarding issue it is vital you have a full picture of the situation.

Here is a real example where having additional information saved a life

  • A participant does not attend your Friday morning session before a bank holiday weekend and doesn’t message as they usually do. Another participant who lives close by also raises a concern that the group members outside light has been left on for a few days which is un-usual.
  • The group member is not answering their phone when you call & message.
  • You know this group member attends an art class on a Tuesday afternoon, you contact that group leader, and they say they did not attend their session this week. They also have not been able to get an answer when they call.
  • A picture is starting to form that is causing you concerns.
  • You phone the group members emergency contact – a family member who confirms they haven’t spoken to them this week and they have not answered their phone when they call.
  • You have their address but know the police are no longer making welfare calls. Before making a visit, yourself you decide to call secondary mental health care at Drury Lane as you know the group member is registered with them.
  • You phone the duty manager to explain the situation and your concerns / why you have those concerns. You ask them to complete a wellbeing check.
  • You pass this information to the family member – emergency contact.
  • (You later discover the group member did not attend their mental health appointment at Drury Lane on Thursday which was very out of character.)
  • On completion of the welfare check Friday lunch time the mental health team find the group member has slipped in the bath (Tuesday morning) had been knocked out, hurt their back and could not get out to get help. Fire & Rescue gain entry and the group member is taken to Pinderfields Hospital for care.
  • The hospital confirm that the group member would have passed away if they had been left any longer.
  • After spending a week in hospital, with visits from your charity staff and the Tuesday art group staff, the group member is released home.

This situation could have been very different had information about that person not been known. They ultimately would not be here; had they been left in the bath until the Tuesday after the bank holiday.

This example also showcases the collaborative working between different VCSE organisations and statutory services.

Building a picture of people who attend your groups can be a work in progress, you may ask certain key things when they first attend and then add to it after conversations, interactions where you learn more about them.

Information storage

Consider where you securely store participant information e.g. password protected phone / attendance app with password protection etc.

  • Is it accessible in an emergency by session leaders?
  • Can it be updated / added to?

Discussion / co-production

You may decide to look at information gathering as a group discussion, talking through what information the group feels should be collected by your organisation to keep participants safe. Talk through minimum information capture requirements and why those pieces of information are needed. During discussions you could explore concerns, showcase examples etc. If the group have helped develop your information gathering process, they will be invested in it. For future group members you can also explain that as a group you’ve decided to collect this information.

These are just some considerations, as mental health services struggle to cope with demand we are likely to see more people with mental health difficulties accessing VCSE support.

How we respond to this increase and how we manage safeguarding and risk is a constantly evolving process.

Ultimately, we need to protect our participants, but we also need to protect our staff and give them all the information they need to respond to concerns and emergency situations on the ground.

If you’d like to share any best practice advice or experiences, please do not hesitate to send them in to Nova and we’ll build on this discussion. You can contact us at

You can find safeguarding training from Young Lives Consortium and Wakefield Safeguarding Children Partnership.

We’d also recommend attending our workshop on having mental health conversations as part of your everyday work, which is open to VCSE organisations and healthcare colleagues.

Jun 4, 2024

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