Using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scales in person-led practice
Lilly Broujerdi and Shauna Hemphill are person-led, transitional and strength-based (PTS) coaches with Mayday Trust in East Northamptonshire. Here, they share their experience of introducing the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scales, also known as WEMWBS, to their clients, how this worked in practice, and key learning points for others.
As PTS Coaches we walk with individuals during tough times – offering a positive approach to support, which moves away from traditional services that are often driven by deficits. By applying the PTS principles of being person-centred, strength-based, and transitional we support people to map out their own journey and define goals that are important to them.
How we used WEMWBS in a person-led, transitional and strength-based way
As PTS Coaches, using a quantitative measure of wellbeing such as the WEMWBS survey with the people we work alongside initially felt like a clash with the PTS philosophy. However, we have trialled the introduction of the surveys with sensitivity to ensure they are person-led and not viewed as an ‘assessment’ of an individual’s wellbeing as this may feel systematic:
- We do this with honesty, framing it as a ‘data tool’ which can be completed on the terms of the individual.
- We use positive language when introducing the survey to embody the strength-based response, avoiding words such as “scoring” and emphasising words such as “reflection”.
- Due to people’s experiences of being trapped in systems that value numeric measuring of a person’s wellbeing and mental health, people may still assume that the survey is an assessment tool and feel the need to get the perceived “correct” answers in order to receive support.
- Although the WEMWBS survey is intended to be used in the first meeting, we found it useful to just introduce the survey during the first meeting to explain its purpose and allow the individual to digest it. This helps the process feel more natural. When it feels appropriate to complete the WEMWBS survey, we will remind them that it is not an assessment and that we are there for any questions or support.
- To give the individual control over their responses to the WEMWBS survey, the individual will be handed a pen and they will fill it out themselves at their own pace.
How did it work for those we support?
The WEMWBS survey has received both positive and negative reactions from the people we work alongside.
- Often, people using the WEMWBS survey explain their reasoning and verbalise their feelings behind their answers. This can be helpful for them to identify what areas they would like to work on and it is also an opportunity for the coach to listen to the person they’re working alongside. The WEMWBS survey has been described as a “conversation starter” by one individual.
- Some people taking part in the WEMWBS survey like to see progress and they are eager to compare their initial survey and their six-month review survey. However, due to the WEMWBS survey not being a visual tool, it can be difficult to share someone’s progress in a clear way.
- We also noticed that the closed nature of the questions can feel limiting which makes it difficult for people taking the WEMWBS survey to answer in a way that feels authentic and truly reflects their position. We work alongside people with long-term health conditions for example, who can often experience fluctuations in mood, pain, and mobility which can’t be captured in the snapshot nature of the WEMWBS survey. One individual taking the WEMWBS survey has said “one day I’m really confident and the next, I’m not”. The WEMWBS survey may therefore be perceived by those facing tough times and their coach as an impersonal approach to deeply personal questions.
- If a person’s answer to the WEMWBS survey is dependent on the day it is completed, it may not be an accurate representation of data or useful for the individual when doing a comparison to the WEMWBS survey 6-month review. However, the prompts of the WEMWBS survey can begin difficult conversations with the people we work alongside to explore what a person feels they need.
It would be interesting to see if the WEMWBS survey could evolve further to allow coaches to use it more effectively in a person-centred and strength-based way. Finding ways to keep questions and conversations more open and allowing flexibility to capture data that both reflects ongoing challenges along with circumstances that may fluctuate day-to-day would be key to this development.