By Faye Radford, MPsych Graduate/Aspiring Clinical Psychologist
Mental health is hard to talk about. Over the years, people have been encouraged to speak more openly about mental health to tackle the sigma which surrounds it, however sometimes it is not that simple. Most people have heard about Samaritans’ helpline, but what about when you cannot find the words to talk about how you are feeling?
For years I have been interested in mental health and after finishing my degree, I explored opportunities in which I could directly support people that were struggling and empower them to manage their situation successfully. A friend recommended that I volunteer for Shout and it turned out to be the perfect opportunity for me to have the impact I wanted for such a worthwhile cause. Before I continue, all of the views shared in this post are my own and based on my own experiences.
What is Shout?
Shout is a crisis text line that was launched in 2019. The service is free, accessible 24/7 and available to anyone that feels that they are experiencing a crisis and require support. The volunteers that work for the service are known as Crisis Volunteers (CVs) and are supported by professional Clinical Supervisors. This provides a brilliant alternative to helplines, as people are able to write how they are feeling as opposed to saying it, and this confidential space can be used to explore emotions and uncover coping mechanisms.
Volunteering for Shout
After applying to be a CV, I was informed that my application was successful, and I could start my training. Shout provide comprehensive training that equips you with the skills to take any conversation, whilst emphasising the importance of empathy and a non-judgemental approach in every conversation. I found this training very useful and you are given the opportunity to practice these skills throughout the training, but despite this I still felt nervous when it came to starting my first shift…
When I logged into the texting ‘platform’ for the first time I was excited to get started but the fear of the unknown was lingering in the back of my mind. A common concern for new CVs is the fear of ‘saying the wrong thing’ but this quickly disappeared once I was greeted by numerous messages from my Supervisor and the other volunteers wishing me luck with my first shift and reassuring me that they are available to support me with any conversation, whilst stressing the importance of self-care and debriefing where necessary. Taking my first conversation was nerve wracking but a brilliant experience.
I have volunteered for Shout for about 6 months now and have supported over 150 people to date with situations ranging from thoughts of suicide, to relationship break ups, to COVID-19 worries in the height of the pandemic. The reward of volunteering for a charity like this is huge; seeing someone go from feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, to empowered and calm, solidifies why I volunteer for Shout and how I want to support others throughout my career.
It is incredible to see the differences to not only my personal development since becoming a CV but also the momentum building around Shout itself. As more people become aware of Shout, more people gain the confidence to text in, further enhanced by stories such as Prince William revealing that he too is a CV and thus not only encouraging people to reach out, but also to volunteer if they have the time. When I think back to how I felt taking that first conversation I can see the amount that I have grown, particularly in my confidence talking about complex crises and the emotional content of the conversations. I implement this throughout my everyday life too, and I would encourage people to feel more confident approaching conversations around mental health if you suspect that someone is struggling, as this can make people feel cared about and less alone. I would hugely recommend volunteering for an organisation such as Shout, and if you are interested in becoming a CV yourself, you can sign up via the following link https://www.giveusashout.org/volunteer-with-us/
Finally, if you’re reading this and feel that you are experiencing a crisis but do not know where to turn, text Shout to 85258. Sometimes it is hard to find the words to say and sometimes text can be easier than speaking. You are never alone.