In support of Mental Health Awareness Week, we’ve had the absolute pleasure of partnering with Shout - a free, confidential, 24/7 text-messaging support service for those who are struggling to cope.
We couldn’t be more proud to partner with a charity so vital for people’s mental health during these strange times, not to mention the incredible work of Shout's volunteers. We wanted to find out a little bit more about what being a Shout volunteer looks like, what it feels like to use your time to help people in times of crisis and just being there to listen.
We caught up with Seren, a Shout volunteer and mental health ambassador from Hampshire. When Seren isn’t working at her day job, she spends her evenings volunteering for Shout, touching the lives of people everywhere and being there to listen to people who simply need to talk. Find out more about Seren, her day to day and all about the incredible work that she does.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What's your name? How old are you and where are you based?
I'm Seren, I’m 23 and I’m based in Hampshire. I work full time in Content Marketing at a Digital Marketing Agency and I’m also studying part time for a Masters in Creative Writing. Also, I’m completely obsessed with Formula 1! When I’m not working full time, volunteering or studying for my Masters, I write about mental health, chronic illness and disabilities.
Incredible. So, tell us all about Shout! How did it come about and how exactly does the service operate?
So, Shout launched in May 2019 - it’s nearly been two years that it’s been running. It’s run by a charity called Mental Health Innovations and they were founded in November 2017 with the support of the royal foundation and essentially, they basically identified the opportunity for digital tools to help support people with their mental health.
Shout is run digitally which means all volunteers do it from the comfort of their own homes or wherever they are. We login from our laptops and we can support anyone who texts in. How it works, is basically, anyone can start a conversation - you just need to text ‘SHOUT’ to 85258. It’s free, it’s confidential and it won’t appear on a phone bill. I’ve had a few conversations where people have asked about the confidentiality side of things because we get quite a lot of young people texting in, but unless someone is at risk of serious harm or hurting themselves or others, it will stay completely confidential.
It would be interesting to hear about how Shout has responded to the pandemic. Was there a significant difference in the amount of messages you were receiving, were there any patterns, and how did the service tackle this?
Yeah, so because Shout is ran online and ran digitally, we were able to respond and scale up our services really quickly during the pandemic. Unlike a lot of places where you have to go into a physical place to take phone calls, we were able to carry on as normal.
Pre-pandemic, in March 2020, we were taking around 750 conversations a day but by January 2021 when another lockdown was announced, the number doubled to over 1,400. The service has grown in that time and there’s more than 2,500 volunteers now. We’re all trained to take conversations with anyone who is struggling to cope or needs support. We also have volunteers in New Zealand who help with night time conversations, meaning there is always someone available to help.
January was a really intense month - the queue was over 200 people at some point. It was tough for a lot of people, for sure.
It’s amazing how far Shout has come and how reactive it has been thanks to all the amazing volunteers like you.
Thank you. Yeah, it’s so surreal. We have different levels on the platform for our volunteers based on how experienced they are - it currently goes up to Level 9. I’m currently Level 5, I’ve been doing it since July last year but no shift is ever the same. I’ve spoken to people younger than teenagers to people who are in their 60’s who have all come from different walks of life. Everyone’s experienced the pandemic differently but volunteering has shown me how different it looks for everyone.
Absolutely. Could you tell us a little about why Shout is specifically a text service and why it’s so important that people do reach out?
Yeah, so Shout actually launched because there was a need for a free, confidential text-messaging service in the UK. More than half of the people who text in tell us that they feel like they don’t have anyone else they can speak to and 38% of texters have never spoken to anyone else. So, for me personally, there was 100% a need for a text or instant messaging service. A lot of young people won’t have the experience of using the landline to talk to their friends across the street, so again, it’s that whole feeling of having confidence. So, being able to text is a really valuable resource. Just being able to text someone and have that support makes Shout really accessible.
Would you say that your own personal experiences inspired you to volunteer?
Definitely. That first conversation I had due to my own experiences made me want to do that for someone else in the future. I wanted to be the other person on the other end of the phone. I’ve always been working on my mental health and mentally, I’m in the best place I’ve ever been. For me, Shout made it possible for me to give back the gift I received when I was younger.
I imagine it’s quite humbling seeing all of these strangers putting their trust into you. It must be so rewarding.
It’s such an honour and a privilege that someone is placing their trust into me. Even if they can’t see me or don’t know who I am, they're placing their trust in a stranger. When you’re at your darkest and lowest moment, that’s a big thing and to take that step of talking to a stranger, that always means a lot.
My favourite thing to say to texters is, ‘You’ve shown so much courage and bravery just by texting in tonight’ because no matter what’s going on in their life, they’ve reached out and asked for help. Sometimes, you’ll get feedback from texters - they’ll take the time out even if they’re at their lowest point, and they’ll give you the time to give you nice, positive feedback and that to me is just mind blowing.
That’s a really kind thing to do, especially during those dark times. I know you mentioned you were Level 5, so are there certain qualifications you have to do to reach a certain level?
You sign up on the Shout website and you need two references to support your application. They’ll ask about your ability to ask about your ability to cope with certain conversations as a lot of scenarios can be triggering. Once you’re accepted, you join a training cohort which is 25 hours of online training to complete over 6 weeks. You start off as a baby chick for your first ten conversations once you’ve passed your training and you’re monitored very closely. Then, you work through the levels from there. It’s all measured on how many conversations you’ve taken.
It’s great to hear that Shout offers so much training to their volunteers before they qualify. Are there a certain amount of hours you have to do per week after this?
Yeah, so Shout ask you to commit to 2-4 hours per week. Because the training is so extensive, volunteers have to commit to 200 hours which can be done over a certain period of time. It’s really flexible and you can book time off really easily.
And finally, how do you stay positive during challenging times?
Over the years, I’ve learnt that the best thing to do is just talk. I’m quite susceptible to stress but I find that the best thing to do is talk to my fiancé, talk to my friends and getting outdoors. Even just stepping into my garden and looking at the flowers - it immerses you into a completely different environment. The temperature is different, the sounds are different, the smells are different and it can withdraw you from whatever challenge you're facing. I also like planning big walks, but again, Formula 1, watching YouTube and reading! I want to read 70 books this year.
Volunteer for Shout
Want to find out more about becoming a Shout Volunteer? The application process is quick, easy and you’ll be at the heart of everything Shout truly stands for.