YourParkingSpace interviews a member of Shout, the Mental Health Innovations Service


During the last month, we celebrated Mental Health Awareness Week, contributing by raising money for the amazing charity text support service, Shout. Now that the week is over, it does not mean we should stop talking about mental health.

We had the opportunity to interview James Fletcher, Head of Corporate Fundraising at charity Mental Health Innovations, which runs Shout - the UK's first free, 24/7, confidential text messaging service for anyone who is struggling to cope. We discussed mental health and how affects all our lives.

1. We know that mental health, like physical health, affects all our lives. But, could you share what mental health means to you?

For me, mental health and physical health are part of the same thing, because they can be equally affected by the same things, such as not getting a good night’s sleep, or eating and drinking. Generally, if I’m doing those things, it’s because I’m not making enough time to look after myself. In times when I’ve felt in good health, I’ve been able to make time for myself and had the headspace to notice those changes. And to forgive me occasionally if life gets in the way too!

2. How important is it for company leaders to be involved in workplace mental-health efforts?

According to a Shout survey, more than half (52%) of people in employment wouldn't feel able to talk to their manager about their mental health. This is bad news for employees, because it holds them back from getting support if they need it, and it’s bad for business because it will affect productivity.

The best organisations for supporting employee mental health foster a culture of openness from the top, and making a statement about that can make a big difference. It’s great that Harrison and Charles at YourParkingSpace have both been closely involved in their company’s partnership with Shout - it shows their commitment to this message.

Having positive conversations in the workplace supports everyone’s well-being. That’s why we developed online training with Hive Learning to help employees develop more understanding about their wellbeing and give them more skills for having those conversations - everything from building rapport, and talking about work concerns to handling difficult feedback.

There’s a growing body of evidence to show that taking this on board, by being open about mental health and providing support to your employees can improve a company’s profits too, so it should mean that everyone wins when employers look out for their employees.

3. What does a typical day for one of your clinicians look like when they are working on the Shout platform?

At busy times on the Shout platform, there are up to ten clinical supervisors online, connecting with volunteers and monitoring risk for every conversation we have. Each day they are working, a supervisor will usually do two shifts lasting four hours each, with a 90-minute break in the middle.

Like our volunteers, all the teams who work directly on the platform are based at home. Being home-based allows them to “switch off” more easily, which is important because so many of our conversations can involve difficult situations and require a de-escalation process to help someone out of a state of crisis. Usually, this process will help someone to feel calmer and seek further help for themselves. But on a typical day, every supervisor will be involved in at least one Active Rescue, where we contact the emergency services to step in because a texter’s life is at immediate risk.

Our priority is always to keep our texters safe, and the supportive relationship between supervisors and our volunteers is key. Supervisors not only support volunteers themselves but also connect them to our coaches, who check in with them between their shifts. So, it’s very busy keeping everything going, but it’s a very collaborative way of working too.

4. There are lots of pressures across the UK on people's mental health at the moment. How is that affecting Shout?

Demand for support from Shout has tripled since the start of the pandemic, and it’s continuing to grow. We believe this is a result of the significant toll the pandemic has taken on the nation’s mental health, alongside raised awareness of the Shout service through partnerships, such as with YourParkingSpace, and the availability of the digital service 24/7 - indeed, 74% of our conversations take place outside the hours of 9am-5pm, when most other support services are closed.

In some ways, it’s positive that more people are reaching out for support, but what we are also seeing is that the number of people who are seeking help for suicidal thoughts is growing too. In April this year, demand for support was up by more than a third to April 2021, and the number of people who contacted us when their lives were in immediate danger was up by 55% last year. We were able to contact the emergency services on behalf of each of those people so that they could receive in-person support, but it’s hard to see those statistics and think about all the people who will be affected.

For Shout to be able to support everyone who needs us, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it’s essential for us to keep training new volunteers too. So this is a big priority. There’s more information on our website about how this works.

5. How do you see the future of mental health?

One of the key learnings we see from the Shout service is how many young people are seeking support for their mental health. Last year we supported 500,000 conversations, and nearly two-thirds of those were with people under the age of 25. This scale of demand is reflected elsewhere too - recent figures show that more young people than ever before are now receiving support from NHS Children’s and Adolescent Mental Health Services. 75% of mental health problems start by the age of 18. Support for this age group needs to be a big future focus, so that young people can have access to the help they need quickly before a problem can build up.

We also understand the role that technology can play for people who are away from face-to-face mental health services or don’t feel they’re right for them. Technology can circumvent many of the barriers people can face, because it can offer free access to information and support at night, and because it’s discreet. So I hope these advances will help more people to reach out for support if they need it.

6. What advice would you give for the organisations to focus on mental health today?

Be proactive, offer your people the support they will need as early as possible, and then make this part of the everyday conversation, so that no one feels any stigma if they need to seek help. Organisations who do this well know that it takes repeated effort and a whole range of activities to get the message out there and reinforce it in creative and engaging ways - information sessions such as lunch and learns, putting wellbeing onto the agenda at meetings, or team activities that promote wellbeing. And always, always, celebrate successes, however large or small. 

To join this warm and supportive community that shares a mission to support people who are struggling to cope, head to their page to find more about it and became part of this amazing organisation.