OPINION - Here’s our solution to Britain’s mental health crisis

 (Alamy Stock Photo)
(Alamy Stock Photo)

The UK is in the throes of a mental health crisis and the young and those in financial poverty are at greatest risk. One in four 17- to 19-year-olds have a probable mental health disorder and rates of mental health difficulties in children aged seven to 16 have risen by 49 per cent over the last five years.

Traditional avenues of support are facing additional pressure in the wake of the pandemic and are struggling to meet demand. Nearly a quarter of people must wait more than 12 weeks to start treatment because of the lack of mental health professionals, with six per cent facing a wait of more than a year. The number of people waiting for community mental health care has risen to 1.2 million and their conditions are often exacerbated by the delay in treatment.

The rate of suicide in the UK is a national tragedy: around 18 people take their own lives every day while suicide and intentional self-harm is currently the leading cause of death among children and young adults aged five to 34. The problem is growing at a particularly rapid rate among certain demographics: the number of girls and women aged 10-24 dying by suicide increased by 133 per cent between 2012 and 2021.

Where can people who are struggling with their mental health turn for support? Options that can effectively meet demand at this level are limited. We believe Shout, our free text messaging support service, offers a unique, digital solution to tackle a problem on this scale.

Every single minute, someone reaches out to Shout for support with a mental health crisis and has a conversation that could save their life. Our trained volunteers and Clinicians are there around the clock to support texters whenever they need us, listening without judgement, helping them to a calmer state so that they can discuss and develop a personal safety plan with signposting to further support where needed. Where a texter is deemed to be at imminent risk of suicide, we work with the emergency services to intervene. The Metropolitan Police reports that in 1 in 3 cases, medical assistance is required.

In Shout’s four years of existence, we’ve scaled our service, trebling numbers over the course of Covid-19 to take 1.8 million conversations with 630,000 children, young people and adults who have needed immediate mental health support. We have teams in the UK and New Zealand working 24/7, offering support to the UK public when most other mental health services aren’t available. We reach an audience who prefer to text rather than talk; 38 per cent of texters have never spoken to anyone else about their mental health before and 55 per cent don’t have anyone else to talk to.

Shout reaches new audiences who prefer to text rather than talk and who might not otherwise have sought help. More than 60 per cent of our texters are children and young people, to whom digital communication is first nature. A quarter of our school aged texters are from a disadvantaged background. Women make up the majority of our texter base and we have disproportionately high reach into some traditionally hard to reach audiences; 7 per cent of our texters identify as Autistic and 43 per cent identify as LGBTQ+.

The issue most frequently arising in Shout conversations is suicide and 39 per cent of Shout users are experiencing suicidal ideation. Many of our texters tell us that, without our support in their moment of crisis, they would have taken their own lives.

Shout has the unique potential to save young lives at scale and provide early intervention to bridge the gap between demand and available services. But without funding we can’t continue to support the 2,000 people who need us every single day. Please help us fundraise for Shout. £10 can pay for a conversation that could save a life. £20,000 keeps Shout running for 24 hours. The impact that we have on our texters, their families and their communities is priceless.

Visit https://giveusashout.org/donate to make a donation.

Victoria Hornby OBE is the CEO of Shout