Distress Brief Intervention - Mental Health 'First Aid' | QCS

Distress Brief Intervention – Mental Health ‘First Aid’

July 31, 2016

Distress can signal a danger point in our lives.

This could be as a reaction to what we see as a danger or difficulty, or as itself leading to stress, ill health or other difficulties if the distress is not resolved.

What is Distress Brief Intervention?

A new project, the Distress Brief Intervention (DBI) pilot scheme has been introduced in Scotland as part of set aside funding to improve mental health services. It is described as:

“..A short intervention for people in distress who do not need emergency medical treatment, in settings like A&E departments or GP surgeries. Specially trained staff will help them to manage difficult emotions and problem situations early on, and come up with a ‘distress plan’ to prevent future crisis.”

The idea is remarkably simple, and promises to be highly effective. The early intervention seeks to better engage and equip people in managing their own health. If the assistance proves effective, in some cases it can avoid or prevent more serious consequences such as mental illness, physical stress-related illnesses, and social problems such as difficulties in personal relationships.

Where does it fit in?

The Government states that the need for DBI has emerged from overall health strategies, such as the Suicide Prevention and Mental Health strategies. The need for this type of intervention has come from discussions with service users and front line service providers. DBI trial projects are being funded to the tune of £4.5m by the Scottish Government at five sites across Scotland. In keeping with the integration environment, the projects will be delivered on a partnership basis in each area, including both health and social care services.

The minister for Mental Health, Maureen Watt, said that the pilot projects will be part of the new overall 10 year Mental Health strategy to be published this year. The DBI projects will run for a four year period, after which their overall effectiveness and viability will presumably be assessed.


Although well-conceived and simple, and promising good preventive returns, there are challenges.

The service will presumably take up a slice of staff time, in training, discussions, consultation, admin and recording. It will also potentially need a share of accommodation and equipment. Unless these demands are minimal, then the four year funding over five sites begins to look rather limited.

Another challenge is the sheer scale of demand which might emerge. Primary care, and front line social care, almost by definition involves distressed people. How will staff survey and select those who may need personal support and stress planning, from either those who may need specialist health treatment, or those who are well supported in their social network, and will cope without intervention? Training will cover some of this, but brief intervention with a proportion of the service user base could expand the demands on staff and funding rather quickly.

But the service is to be applauded, and no doubt will be well planned and delivered effectively. It is a good example of concerned government and involved services responding to people on what they might need.


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Tony Clarke

Scottish Care Inspectorate Specialist


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