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CATALYST logo showing a purple and orange hand placed together with the definition of CATALYST written out next to it
Brighton & Sussex Medical School



CATALYST - Co-designing and testing an Asset-based TAsk-sharing modeL for Youth mental health Services in deprived communiTies.

A National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) funded research project aimed at improving Youth Mental Health (YMH) services alongside young people in vulnerable communities.

This project is seeking to co-design community-based mental health strategies and interventions WITH and FOR young people, their parents/carers, healthcare workers, and local communities. 


CATALYST is a research project run by Brighton and Sussex Medical School and the University of Sussex. Our goal is to improve the quality and coverage of youth mental health services regionally and learn lessons that can be applied elsewhere. Over a period of three years, we will work in three vulnerable communities with high levels of social and economic deprivation in Kent, Surrey and Sussex. We are especially interested in improving care for young people who are currently not reached or are not being adequately treated, by mental health services.

Mental ill-health is the single largest cause of disability in the UK. Most problems start in adolescence and early adulthood. The period from 16 to 24 years is a particularly vulnerable period when major life activities such as education and employment can be severely disrupted. Existing services are unable to meet the demand for mental health care, especially in vulnerable areas.

These people are experts in their lived experience of youth mental health services and this project seeks to understand how they can be involved in the way these services are designed and run. Our work is based on several key concepts which have been developed by researchers and practitioners which include but are not limited to: Co-design, Asset-Based Community Development, Task Sharing, and Social Recovery Therapy. 

Our plan 

CATALYST will be organised into the following four ‘phases’.

Phase 1: Situational Analysis

This phase will identify strengths (‘assets’) within specific local areas and explore how these might be utilised to deliver a new youth mental health service. We will interview people living and working at each site. We will also examine existing local, national, and international evidence to better understand contexts and challenges.

Phase 2: Codesigning a Youth Mental Health model

We will engage young people, their parents/carers, healthcare workers, and local communities in co-design group workshops where they will develop a plan for the new youth mental health services. We will run a separate workshop with current service providers from the public, community and voluntary sectors to adapt and assemble delivery strategies co-designed in the earlier workshops. We will aim to connect with existing local provision and national service models, such as ‘one-stop shops’ for primary health care and youth mental health hubs.

Phase 3: Implementing the model

We will implement and evaluate the co-designed services through a series of small linked case studies. We will recruit community members in dual service provider/researcher roles. They will test the practicality and relevance of the new services and will supervise the people who deliver the service. We will then make changes before rolling out the service more widely.

Phase 4: Scaling up and evaluating the project

In this stage, we will scale up and implement the new youth services and will evaluate the success of the full project. We will also develop a ‘co-design’ toolkit which can be used by other researchers or practitioners to develop and implement co-designed approaches to developing and delivering mental health services.

The evidence

Asset-based community development

Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is an approach to sustainable community-driven development which is based on the idea that communities can drive the development process themselves by identifying and mobilizing existing, but often unrecognised ‘assets.’ An asset can be anything that exists within a community that can be leveraged for positive change and is often categorised as the skills and experience of individuals, the informal associations with common interests, people organised into formal institutions, physical or social places used by communities, or the ways that people interact and connect. Rather than focusing on the challenges that exist in communities, the approach focuses on ‘what’s strong, not what’s wrong’, thereby responding to challenges and creating local social improvement.

You can learn more about ABCD at Nesta’s website.

Visit Nesta's website > 


Co-design (co-production) is a process that uses creative and participatory methods to create new healthcare inventions or services with different groups of people who have ‘lived experience of using and delivering them. In co-design, decision-making is shared equally throughout the process - everyone taking part has an equal level of power. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, there are patterns and principles that can be applied in different ways to different people. Importantly, co-designers make decisions, not just suggestions.

Co-design is about challenging the imbalance of power held by individuals who make important decisions about others’ lives, livelihoods and bodies. Often, with little to no involvement of the people who will be most impacted by those decisions. It seeks to change that through prioritising relationships, using creative tools and building capability. It uses inclusive convening to share knowledge and power.

You can learn more about the co-design and co-production at ARC KSS’s website.


Task Sharing

Task sharing is an approach to designing and delivering health services that involve training, upskilling, and supervising community and voluntary sector workers in service delivery roles that are traditionally held by specialised professionals. There is currently a lack of providers who can provide services in hard-to-reach communities and there is an untapped resource of non-NHS workers who could fill human resource shortages in low-intensity roles. Task sharing is envisioned to create a more rational distribution of tasks and responsibilities among health workers to improve access and cost-effectiveness. Task sharing is used widely in low and middle-income countries and this project seeks to join efforts to understand how it can be applied to vulnerable communities in the UK.

Social Recovery Therapy

Social Recovery Therapy (SRT) is an individual psychological intervention developed by Professor David Fowler and colleagues, with support and involvement from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the Medical Research Council, the University of East Anglia, the University of Sussex, Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, Sussex Partnership, NHS Foundation Trust, Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, and many other organisations and individuals.

SRT has its foundations in clinical practice and has been refined through large-scale research projects in youth mental health and psychosis. The foundation of SRT is that social disability itself is an index of severity. Social disability is an important way to identify people who are at risk of developing serious, complex and enduring mental health problems and, where co-present with emerging psychological difficulties, is a clear risk factor for enduring and worsening mental health problems.

You can learn more about the practice at the SRT website:


International Projects

This research joins, and is influenced by international efforts to develop youth mental health service alongside those who use and deliver them.


Get involved 

If you are interested in getting involved in the project you can email the team at with any questions or enquiries.

In the future, we will seek people to fill specific public and patient involvement roles on the project. Further details will be provided here.

Two hands and forearms as a background with details on how to get involved in the CATALYST project written over them


News and publications

Findings from the research will be used to develop guidelines and other resources for researchers, community and voluntary organisations, and NHS providers about how to develop and implement asset-based youth mental health innovations in other areas. We will share the findings through articles in scientific and health journals and presentations at conferences for researchers, professionals and service users. We will also hold our own end-of-project event, where we will invite representatives from across community, voluntary and public sectors, academia and media to help make sure our findings influence local and national practice.


The logo competition 

In summer 2022 we ran a logo competition. Young people submitted their designs and the research team selected a winner. You can see the winning at the top of this page and it will be used whenever and wherever we are sharing news and information about the project. You can see the other entries to the logo competition below. Thank you to all those who contributed their designs to the competition.

Two CATALYST logos, the left shows 4 illustrated people smiling with CATALYST written above the right logo shows the word CATALYST written in purple bubble writing