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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Mental Health Services/Teams in the Community:

Key Facts


Mental health services are undergoing a great deal of change and development at present. In many areas, the traditional Community Mental Health Team is being re-structured into new specialist teams. Information on the new service teams should be available from your local NHS mental health trust.


What is a mental health service/team in the community?community team

It is made up of a group of mental health professionals who work together to help people with a wide range of mental health problems. The different professions all have different knowledge and skills which can be used to tackle problems together.


Why would I have been referred to a mental health service/team in the community?

Your GP might try to help you with a mental health problem by giving support, prescribing antidepressants or referring you to a counsellor or psychotherapist. But if your problems are more complicated, or don't improve, they may refer you to a mental health team in the community.


Who might I meet?

You will most often see a mental health worker. They can be from a number of different professional backgrounds (see below), but will all try to develop a trusting, respectful and helpful relationship with you.


How will the team help me?

They will help to sort out what areas you need help with, keep an eye on how you are, develop your strengths; work to find answers to your current problems and help you to recover.


How will I be seen?

You may be seen on your own, in a group with other people or, sometimes, with your friends or family. Mental health workers share a number of important skills, but can also use their more specialist skills when needed. These professions include:

  • Psychiatrists
  • Community Psychiatric Nurses (CPN)
  • Social Workers
  • Occupational Therapists (OT)
  • Clinical Psychologists
  • Pharmacists

The team manager will usually be a senior nurse, or social worker, and will often not see clients themselves. They are responsible for the practical details of running the team, how the team works with other parts of the health service and other organisations, helping the team to develop and making sure that the team has high standards of practice.  Receptionists and secretaries also help the teams run smoothly.


Other staff

These can include outreach workers, benefits workers, support workers, recovery workers, vocational therapists, art therapists and psychotherapists. Staff without a professional qualification are now working more and more with such teams, especially people who have had mental health problems, advocates, and workers from day centres or housing organisations. Specialist old age psychiatry teams may include professionals such as speech therapists or physiotherapists.


Where do these services/teams work?

The team will have a base, like a clinic. They may see you there, but can also see you in an out-patient clinic, GP surgery, day-centre, or your home.


They work with you as an individual, but also come together in groups to discuss how best to support you. At regular team meetings, staff try to make sure that they have a clear picture of your difficulties and strengths. They can then plan the right help with you and will decide which member of the group should work with you – this person would usually be your key worker.


What is a key worker/care coordinator?

A key worker/care coordinator is usually a social worker, occupational therapist or nurse. Their job is to get to know you, learn about your difficulties, find out how you see your problems, know about your strengths, discuss any plans with you, give counselling, information and advice, to make sure that you have care plan and that everybody is working together properly.


What is a care plan (also known as a Recovery Plan)?

The different parts of your help or treatment are written down in a care plan. You should have a copy of this and it should be looked at every few months (see below).


What is a Care Programme Approach (CPA)?

The CPA is a system for having a meeting every few months with everyone who is involved in your care plan. You will be invited to this meeting and, if you want, can bring a carer, family member or advocate (see below) to support you.


What about confidentiality?

Members of a team have to keep your information confidential in the same way as other doctors and health-care staff. But they will share information about you with other members of the team so that they can give you the best possible care. They will also need to talk to your GP and any other doctors whom you are seeing.


Can relatives and friends become involved?

A mental health team may want your family to be involved, but are still bound by medical confidentiality. So, they will usually ask you for your permission for this to happen. Many teams provide information for families and offer support groups.


What about advocates?

An advocate can go to meetings with you to help you to ask questions and get your message across to professionals. They are usually employed by a voluntary organisation or a different part of the health service.


Will I be offered the choice of pills or counselling?

This will depend both on what would be most helpful - and on what you would prefer. Many people get help from both medication and talking treatments.


Specialist mental health teams in the community

In the UK, there is now a range of more specialist teams in the community: Home treatment; Crisis intervention; Early onset psychosis; First episode psychosis; ABT (assessment and brief treatment); Continuing care; Rehabilitation; Assertive Outreach and Forensic.


What can I expect from my local team?

Teams in different areas may be quite different. Some services concentrate on helping people who have severe and long-lasting mental illness, some on shorter treatments for anxiety and depression. What any service provides is decided between your local Health Authority which have the money, and your local Mental Health Trust which runs the service.


For more in-depth information see our main leaflet: Mental Health Services/Teams in the Community

This leaflet reflects the most up-to-date evidence at the time of writing.

Produced by the RCPsych Public Education Editorial Board.

Series Editor: Dr Philip Timms

Reviewed by Sally Dean

© February 2014. Due for review: February 2016.  Royal College of Psychiatrists.This leaflet may be downloaded, printed out, photocopied and distributed free of charge as long as the Royal College of Psychiatrists is properly credited and no profit gained from its use. Permission to reproduce it in any other way must be obtained from The College does not allow reposting of its leaflets on other sites, but allows them to be linked directly.

For a catalogue of public education materials or copies of our leaflets contact: Leaflets Department, The Royal College of Psychiatrists, 21 Prescot Street, London E1 8BB. Telephone: 020 3701 2552. 


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