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New essays from the Q Lab: the physical and mental health divide

Jo Scott introduces what the Q Lab and Mind have learned from exploring mental health and persistent pain, and why it is relevant to all those working across health and care boundaries.

Since September, the Q Lab, Mind and over 100 Lab participants have been working together to explore how care can be improved for people living with both mental health problems and persistent back and neck pain.

Today we publish the first two outputs from this work:

  • The first essay outlines how the Q Lab came to focus on mental health and persistent back and neck pain, and why it is a topic that warrants attention. (8 minute read)

Read the first essay

  • The second essay outlines the challenges and opportunities, combining research and evidence with the experiences of people living with both conditions, and outlining five specific opportunities for improving care. (19 minute read)

Read the second essay

Mental health problems and persistent back and neck pain affect many people. However, what is less known or understood is that the two are intrinsically linked. The way the conditions interact and the wide-ranging impact it can have on someone’s life can influence how someone may respond to treatment and the type of support that is needed from health services.

The conditions should therefore not be considered in isolation, but the reality is that the health and care system is not properly geared up for meeting the needs of people living with both long-term mental and physical health conditions. As the insights in the essays show, this can result in duplication, omission and inappropriate service provision.

Through the work we have done with health care professionals and patients, we have sought to better understand how health services and individuals can respond, and have identified opportunities to improve.

Why this is important to all Q members delivering care across boundaries

Q aims to provide a platform so that insights and best practice from members is more visible – to support peer learning and encourage collaboration. The Q Lab and Mind have worked with other 100 people – including Q members – who have lived and professional expertise on the topic. The research has brought together published evidence, including statistics about prevalence and impact, with people’s lived and professional experiences. This allows us to bring the challenges to life and make a persuasive and practical case for change.

Photo: Alastair Fyfe

For professionals working in this area and people with lived experience we hope these essays will resonate and be a useful resource to share with others, to help you make the case for change. For people who are less familiar but are interested in the topic, the essays give a rounded overview, with insights and evidence that inspire ideas and action.

More broadly, while the Q Lab and Mind are focusing on mental health and persistent back and neck pain specifically, the challenges and opportunities within this topic are connected to the wider ambition of better supporting people’s mental and physical health. Therefore, the learning is of interest to all those in the Q community working to break down the traditional siloes between mental and physical health.

How you can use the essays

  • Read them and let us know your feedback – what examples of good practice are you aware of that address these challenges?
  • Start conversations – share them with colleagues to help build momentum and influence change in your context. What opportunities will you be exploring locally? A PowerPoint summary is available to download if you’d like a synthesised and visual version of the essays.
  • Raise awareness and help us share them widely either on social media (using #QLabs so we can retweet) or with your wider networks.

Next steps for this project over the next 3-4 months

The Q Lab is working with four organisations – ‘test teams’ – to translate this research in to practical ideas to improve care in their local contexts. My colleagues Anindita and Dom have been sharing blogs on how this work is progressing – take a look at them here.

Through working with the teams, we’ll be capturing learning specific to what it takes to improve care for people living with both mental health problems and persistent back and neck pain, as well as more generalisable learning about what it takes to improve care across mental and physical health. These essays are the first of a number of outputs that we will be sharing as part of this project.

Questions, thoughts or feedback? Do get in touch at or join the online group.

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