A qualitative investigation into care-leavers' experiences of accessing mental health support

Alice R. Phillips, Rachel M. Hiller, Sarah L. Halligan, Iris Lavi, John A.A. Macleod, David Wilkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: People who grew up under the care of children's social services are a highly vulnerable group, with 50% of this population meeting the criteria for a mental health problem at any one time. Emerging evidence suggests that there is a disparity between the number of people who require support, and those that receive it, and that they face several barriers to accessing timely and effective mental health support. We have a limited understanding of how to support the mental health of this group as they ‘age out’ of children's social services, and the transition to independence, which occurs around the age of 18. We aimed to explore how care-leavers understand their experiences of help-seeking from formal mental health services. Methods: We used qualitative interviews, and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis with 9 care-experienced young people aged between 18 and 25 years old. This work was co-produced by a team of care-experienced adults, from the conception of the study to write-up. Results: Qualitative analysis revealed several themes which centred around: (1) taking reluctant steps towards recovery, (2) challenges with being understood and the importance of gaining an understanding of yourself, (3) navigating trust and (4) the legacy of not having your mental health needs met. Conclusions: We identified several important implications for health and social care practice, across primary and secondary health care settings. This work highlights ways to better support this highly vulnerable group in accessing evidence-based mental health support, and how to maintain engagement.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice
Early online date8 Mar 2024
StateE-pub ahead of print - 8 Mar 2024
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Authors. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of The British Psychological Society.


  • adolescence
  • mental health
  • social care
  • therapy
  • trauma
  • young adults

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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