Measuring mental wellbeing through difficult life transitions: a look at the WEMWBS scales in practice
In this blog, we hear from the Mayday Trust describing their use of the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scales, also known as WEMWBS, in providing support for people going through difficult life transitions.
Ashraf Hamzah, Head of Social Impact at Mayday Trust, describes the Trust’s journey to introduce WEMWBS and reflects on its value. In the accompanying practice example, coaches Lilly Broujerdi and Shauna Hemphill describe introducing WEMWBS with those they support and how they integrated it into their practice.
Who is Mayday Trust and why did we explore WEMWBS?
Mayday Trust is a forward-thinking organisation working alongside people going through some of the toughest life transitions. We provide direct support through person-led, transitional, and strength-based services (PTS).
We are a curious organisation and thrive on research and reflection approaches that dive deeper and allow us to evaluate the work that we do well.
Searching for a tool that aligned to our strength-based approach to working with people, and offered comparable data with the wider sector, we came across the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scales (WEMWBS) survey which seemed like it might be a fit.
Our journey to using WEMWBS
As our PTS Coaches respond in a person-led and strength-based way to each individual, focusing on the transition that person wants to make in their life (the PTS Response) we were keen to explore tools that use positive language, focusing on the person’s strengths rather than deficits so it would align with our way of working. We were looking for a measurement of success which was not based on a direct increase in scores related to presumed areas of deficit, such as managing money, offending, drug and alcohol use, etc.
That’s when Mayday came across the Developmental Asset Survey, developed by the Search Institute in America. The survey was originally designed to measure child development, but we could see the potential to develop the tool to suit our needs. Mayday worked with The Search Institute to create a bespoke survey adapted to the UK context and the people Mayday work with.
Although this, in part, provided a solution for quantitative strength-based measurement, we still had to find a way to validate the survey results. The Asset Survey is not widely used in the UK and, although altered, it was originally designed for a different cohort of people. It wasn’t enough to answer the question of how to compare impact with the wider sector or similar work done by other organisations. We needed a simple quantitative tool to check whether we are actually helping people.
For Mayday, this validation of the Asset Survey results and the qualitative data from PTS Coaches and those they worked with came from WEMWBS. It provided a simple and strength-based way to measure the mental wellbeing impact of our PTS coaching work.
How do we use WEMWBS in practice?
We offer the WEMWBS survey to people a month after they start working with a PTS Coach, and then retake this survey at fixed intervals after that.
Data is compared and compiled firstly per individual before we then:
- Compare responses for those people who had at least two surveys completed, and then compare based on the total number of surveys completed.
- Compare the average scores of first surveys, to subsequent ones – usually, up to the 4th or 5th survey covering a time period of 13 to 16 months.
What was our impression of the tool?
We found that the results were statistically significant, evidencing the positive impact for people working with a PTS Coach, and providing an average measure for the changes in mental wellbeing expected for people experiencing tough transitions. Our team also found the survey easy to use, quick, and more inclusive as it was available in multiple languages.
Despite this, our PTS Coaches found that the WEMWBS survey didn’t have the flexibility needed to reflect individual variations of the responses offering deeper context. The simplified categorisation was not enough to form a basis for the coaching conversation and often therefore created anomalies in the data. So, we opted not to use the WEMWBS survey to monitor the changes impacting the individual, and instead focused on using it on a more general level by collecting large samples to avoid variations.
The WEMWBS survey did prove to be an invaluable tool for measuring the impact of our work. It provided statistically significant evidence that working with a PTS Coach through the PTS Response supports and improves people’s mental wellbeing. It is an easy and positively worded survey which supports strengths-based work. However, one of the biggest lessons we learnt is that the survey, and data, can only be looked at in conjunction with other measurements and not in isolation if it is to be truly reflective of a person’s circumstances.