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Compassion in mental health: a literature review

Joy M. Rooney (IMPACT SUAC Group, University of Worcester Institute of Health and Society, Worcester, UK and Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust, Worcester, UK)

Mental Health and Social Inclusion

ISSN: 2042-8308

Article publication date: 2 July 2020

Issue publication date: 28 November 2020




This paper aims to systematically review the current literature on compassion in mental health from a historical, service user and carer (SUAC)/academic researcher perspective with respect to the current paradigm/biomedical model.


Searches were conducted in CIANHL Complete, Academic Search Complete, British Education Index, ERIC, MEDLINE, PsycArticles, Scorpus, Proquest Central using a simplified PRISM approach.


In the UK, the SUAC-movement facilitated the adoption of more compassionate mental health in statutory services. Across the world, compassion-based approaches may be viewed as beneficial, especially to those experiencing a biomedical model “treatment”. Health-care workers, suffering burnout and fatigue during neoliberal economics, benefit from compassion training, both in their practice and personally. Randomised control trials (RCTs) demonstrate compassion-type interventions are effective, given sufficient intervention timing, duration and design methodology. Psychology creates outcome measures of adequacies and deficiencies in compassion, demonstrating their importance statistically, with reservations. The effective protection of mental health by self-compassion in both SUACs and health care professionals is evident. It is clear from qualitative research that SUACs prefer compassionate mental health. It also makes a large difference to mental health in general populations. Implications for practice and suggestions for future research are given, including a necessity to fund RCTs comparing compassionate mental health interventions with the biomedical model. Unless statutory mental health services adopt this emerging evidence base, medics and their SUACs will continue to rely on pharmaceuticals.


This is the first integrated literature review of compassion in mental health from a historical, SUAC/academic researcher viewpoint using all research methodologies.



The University of Worcester, IMPACT group of SUACs, provided funding to attend a Compassionate Mental Health gathering in November 2019.Declaration of interests: This article is the view of the author and not the organisation she is employed by.


Rooney, J.M. (2020), "Compassion in mental health: a literature review", Mental Health and Social Inclusion, Vol. 24 No. 4, pp. 217-228.



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