Community Navigators2: Reducing loneliness in people with depression

What is this project?

We previously worked with mental health service users, practitioners and researchers to develop the Community Navigator programme, led by a team at UCL. This programme aimed to reduce loneliness for people with depression and anxiety who are using community mental health services. The work was co-produced by a working group involving experiential, clinical and academic expertise, and we have written about this experience – which felt like a success.

This new study seeks to take promising findings from Community Navigators that was carried out in London only, and deliver a larger research project in four locations: London (Camden and Islington), London (Barnet), Birmingham and York / North Yorkshire.

The programme involves offering people ten meetings with a “Community Navigator” over a six-month period, to discuss people, places and activities which are important to them, and to develop and achieve goals for enhancing social connections and reducing loneliness. There are also meet-ups for people in the programme to share experiences of local groups and resources, and strategies for reducing loneliness.

Community Navigators bring a fresh approach to community support, which complements clinical care: they are recruited and trained to be experts in their local communities, and in actively helping people participate in social groups and activities.

Our previous research established the programme, and was welcomed by participants and the mental health teams taking part as a promising way to help with depression by reducing people’s loneliness. You can read more about how the programme works in our co-produced peer review paper.

This new study, Community Navigators2, has been funded by the NIHR HTA programme to undertake a full trial in four areas of England to test programme effectiveness, in a three-and-a-half year randomised controlled trial.

This means 306 people will be allocated at random to either get support from a Community Navigator, in addition to their usual community mental health team care, or to carry on receiving treatment as usual. There will be qualitative research embedded in the study, which McPin will lead on using a peer research approach.

Why is this project important?

Loneliness is harmful for physical and mental health, and common among people with mental health problems. In particular, people who are depressed recover less well if they are also lonely.

We lack evidence about how best to help people with severe, long-term mental health problems to develop and sustain valued social connections and feel less lonely. Mental health services often provide less support with this area of life than people would like.

Our study aims to establish an evidence-based type of social support to help people with severe long-term depression, which can complement the medical and psychological treatments already on offer in mental health services.

How are McPin and people with lived experience of mental health problems involved in the project?

We are a core project partner in this study, employing a peer researcher and coordinating the Lived Experience Advisory Panel (LEAP). 

Our peer researcher will be carrying out three qualitative studies within the programme, and supporting LEAP involvement throughout. We will recruit a Lived Experience Advisory Panel (LEAP) of eight people with relevant mental health lived experience and diverse backgrounds and experiences from our four study sites. We will include some members who bring experience from the original Community Navigators study.

The group will help: Finalise the trial protocol, including developing study recruitment materials and interview topic guide; understand and address any challenges with participant recruitment or retention during the trial; interpret study qualitative and quantitative findings; and advise on how to disseminate the work effectively.

LEAP members will also help with study delivery, including supporting with: recruitment and training of the new Community Navigators, thematic coding of qualitative data, writing blogs or newsletters to update study participants on trial progress, and writing up results including developing an infographic. This involvement work is core to the study and will ensure we can draw upon vital lived experience expertise at every stage to improve the quality and relevance of our work.

What is the current status of the project? 

We are currently in the set-up phase for this project which starts September 2021, including recruitment for our LEAP. If you are interested in being on the LEAP please see the following documents:

Where can I find more information?

For more information on the project, please contact Research Manager Tanya on