Mental Health Stories

Personal stories of overcoming mental illness can help others on similar paths to recovery

Monday, 22 January 2024

A new study, led by experts at the University of Nottingham, has found that personal accounts of how people have overcome their struggles with mental illness, have been shown to be effective at helping others with similar experiences to improve their quality of life.

The NEON study, which is published in World Psychiatry, is the first mental health trial in the world to report findings on an intervention making use of mental health recovery narratives. The method was also found to be a cost-effective treatment option for the NHS.

The study was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).

We believe the findings of the NEON study are an important contribution that will shape practice. We found that a recovery narratives intervention was effective at improving quality of life, increased people’s perception that their life had meaning, and was a cost-effective use of NHS resources, so this was a trial with a very positive set of findings."
Dr Stefan Rennick-Egglestone from the School of Health Sciences, and the Institute of Mental Health at the University of Nottingham, who co-ordinated the study through the Institute of Mental Health.

Narratives describing first-hand experiences of recovery from mental health problems are widely available, but no trial has ever been carried out to investigate whether they can benefit people experiencing their own mental health struggles. The researchers developed the Narratives Experiences Online (NEON) Intervention, a web application which was home to a collection of more than 600 recorded mental health recovery narratives.

They investigated whether access to the NEON Intervention, benefitted adults experiencing non-psychotic mental health problems. Participant’s quality of life was assessed 52 weeks after signing up for the trial, by the Manchester Short Assessment.

1,023 participants from across England were recruited for the study, with the most common mental health problems being mood and/or anxiety disorders and stress-related disorders.

Half of participants were given immediate access to a collection of mental health recovery narratives, through the NEON Intervention. Half were given access to the NEON Intervention 52 weeks after signing up for the trial. For all participants, the team then collected some information about them using online questionnaires, both when they first signed up for the trial, and after 52 weeks. This allowed the team to identify any changes that were created by receiving immediate access to the NEON Intervention

The results showed that people who received immediate NEON Intervention access experienced an improvement in their quality of life after 52 weeks, and an increased perception that their life had meaning. Both changes were small, but still meaningful. Importantly, the cost to the NHS of these changes, when compared to their benefit, was about 1/3 of what the NHS would routinely pay, and so this shows that the NEON Intervention is a cost-effective use of NHS resources. For trial participants who were already using NHS mental health services, the NEON Intervention was particularly cost-effective, in that it saved the NHS money, including through participants spending less time with psychologists or psychiatrists.

Mike Slade, Professor of Mental Health Recovery and Social Inclusion, at the University, said: “Our England-wide study found that personal accounts of recovery recorded by people with mental health problems can improve the lives of others with similar experiences. Our key findings were that the NEON Intervention improves quality of life and meaning in life, and is cost-effective enough that it can be recommended for use within the NHS. We’re very excited about the potential for new approaches to supporting recovery which use this lived experience of what it’s actually like to live with, and live well with, mental health problems.”

Dr Stefan Rennick-Egglestone adds: “As an important part of our study, we looked at the impact of the NEON Intervention on people who had used or never used NHS mental health services. Whilst the NEON Intervention provided cost-effective benefits for all, it was particularly cost-effective for people currently using NHS mental health services, to the extent that introducing the NEON Intervention reduced NHS resource use.”

The full study can be found here.

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Stefan Rennick-Egglestone from the School of Health Sciences at the University of Nottingham at

About the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR)

The mission of the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) is to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. We do this by:

  • Funding high quality, timely research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care;
  • Investing in world-class expertise, facilities and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services;
  • Partnering with patients, service users, carers and communities, improving the relevance, quality and impact of our research;
  • Attracting, training and supporting the best researchers to tackle complex health and social care challenges;
  • Collaborating with other public funders, charities and industry to help shape a cohesive and globally competitive research system;
  • Funding applied global health research and training to meet the needs of the poorest people in low and middle income countries.


NIHR is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. Its work in low and middle income countries is principally funded through UK Aid from the UK government.

Charlotte Anscombe - Media Relations Manager - Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
Phone: 0115 748 4417

Notes to editors:

About the University of Nottingham

Ranked 32 in Europe and 16th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings: Europe 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.

Nottingham was crowned Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024 – the third time it has been given the honour since 2018 – and by the Daily Mail University Guide 2024.

The university is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

The university is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.

We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.

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