By Dr Emma Lawrance, Mental Health Innovations Fellow
These are hyper-connected times. We’re told we can get what we want – from dinner to a date – at the tap of a phone screen. And yet, even with the world seemingly at our fingertips, when we are in an emotional crisis or struggling with our mental health, it can be hard to know where to go. And hard to know what to say, when one of our loved ones is brave enough to express what’s truly on their mind.
Shout, the new text messaging service launched by Mental Health Innovations, is beginning to change this. A 24/7 crisis service, it allows anyone, anywhere, anytime, to anonymously message with one of Shout’s trained volunteers. Shout gives a chance to be heard, and to be supported from a heated moment to a calmer place.
The most common sentiments expressed by texters at the start of a conversation are fear, and loneliness. By the end of a conversation, texters have co-created a plan to move forward, and are generally so grateful to have had someone there for them. The most common short phrase from texter feedback is “helped calm down”.
A path to progress
In the past year of piloting the service, over 40 million words have been exchanged. That’s about 40 times the complete series of Harry Potter novels! Shout not only supports the texters, but also changes the volunteers’ lives – equipping people with the skills and confidence to support people at their most vulnerable.
The Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI) is proud that many staff members are among those life-changing volunteers. And we are prouder still of the recently announced partnership between IGHI and Mental Health Innovations. This combines the punch of IGHI’s ability to deliver breakthrough healthcare innovations and the unique insights of an organisation working on the frontline for mental health support.
Through the partnership, IGHI researchers can learn directly from those in crisis to truly understand mental health needs and innovate to address them. It’s widely acknowledged that there is a growing mental health need in the UK, and globally. With 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental illness, mental ill-health affects all communities and causes the most life years lost to disability of any disease.
The statistics are commonly rattled off. But underneath these stats, there’s a lot we don’t know about the oft mentioned “mental health crisis”. What circumstances are people in crisis facing, and how can we better tailor support to both prevent and respond to these needs? We know surprisingly little about the experiences of people who don’t access traditional services. And despite the plethora of mental health and wellbeing apps flooding the market, only a tiny proportion have a solid evidence base.
To reach a time when mental health is truly held with the same “parity of esteem” as physical health, we should expect the same rigour of evidence base for the tools and services we use to look after our brains as the rest of our body. I’m thrilled to be working with both MHI and IGHI for our partnership to better understand and respond to the needs of people experiencing mental ill-health.
Over the coming months, we will work together to learn from services like Shout for the benefit of the whole mental health sector. Having worked previously in both neuroscience and with a youth mental health charity It Gets Brighter, I see the great potential of using science to powerfully leverage the voices of people with lived experience of mental ill-health.
The insights we can gain will allow us to target new digital innovations where they will be most useful, and find new ways to better support people’s mental health, whatever their situation. People with lived mental health experiences will be involved at every stage of the development of these new digital tools and services, using the principles of co-design IGHI is renowned for.
Joining the dots
Supporting mental health requires us to truly connect – to build partnerships that will let us better tailor support; to connect those who need to be heard with a listening ear; to help people find the right service for them, or create a service where it does not exist. Let’s fulfil the promise of our “hyper-connected” world, where no-one has to feel scared or alone. The MHI-IGHI partnership is excited to contribute to just that.
Watch this space.
Dr Emma Lawrance is a Mental Health Innovations Fellow at the Institute of Global Health Innovation and Mental Health Innovations.