What is it like to be a uni student and work in mental health? Our writer Sabita tells us about the challenges of being an online Crisis Volunteer alongside her studies.
Triger warning: This article contains stories of people who have suffered severe mental health issues, and discusses topics such as suicide. Please do not read if you feel you may be negatively affected by reading about these subjects.
Who are Shout? They are a fast-growing, international charity who are often described as being like the Samaritans, but offering conversations over text, for those who feel uncomfortable talking on the phone. As a Crisis Volunteer, for two hours per week my job is to take conversations with people from all over the UK who text in in crisis, and guide them from a hot moment to a cool calm.
The first time I’d heard of the charity, or even had any thoughts remotely close to signing up for something like this, was back in summer 2019 when my mum dumped a copy of a weekend magazine down on my desk and said, ‘You like texting, you could do this!’ After two copious six-week rounds of intensive online training (I had to drop out of one cohort and begin again a month later as I just didn’t have those time management skills laid down), I finally graduated and was ready to complete my first shift.
As an English Language student, I nerded out about everything I learned throughout the training, as everything we were taught about how to text empathetically and lead a successful conversation was related back to the word choices we were making. A revolutionary thing I learned about was the charity’s philosophy on the discussion of suicide. When messaging texters who were experiencing suicidal feelings, instead of using the phrase ‘commit suicide’, we were told to avoid this as it holds connotations from back in the days when killing yourself was considered sinful, and sounds similar to ‘committing a crime’ or ‘committing murder.’ Instead, phrasings like ‘die by suicide’ or even ‘complete suicide’ are more neutral and are safer options to use when speaking with someone on the brink of a crisis.
One recent conversation I had involved a texter who was struggling with trying to push back suicidal feelings since his girlfriend had cheated on him. I found this particularly challenging, especially as the man had texted in earlier that morning, and the fact that he had by now tried everything in his power to feel better and was still feeling desperate meant that it seemed impossible to think of ways to help him. Nonetheless, a few days later I received feedback in which he told me that our conversation had helped distract him from self-harm and relieved some of the anxiety he had been feeling. Even though he had left the conversation feeling distraught – even though I am nowhere near being a licensed mental health professional and could only do a minimal amount to help in the forty minutes that we talked – it is the knowledge that the people you speak to have been able to help themselves feel even the smallest bit better which makes this role rewarding beyond words.
Undertaking this role whilst enduring one of the most stressful years of my academic life was a decision I spent the whole of last summer considering. As my mental health is luckily rarely bad enough to catastrophically disrupt me, I took the plunge. I have not regretted this, as a couple of hours every weekend is manageable. I have even been surprised to find that having something to focus my attention on other than my dissertation and exams has been refreshing and invigorating. Adding to this, people who suffer with severe mental health issues seriously affecting their day-to-day lives are not encouraged to become Crisis Volunteers, as one of the platform’s most deeply ingrained values is that the Volunteers should take as much care of themselves as they do their texters.
So, despite all the stress, is this role worth it? It may be tricky at times, but it’s worth the time and effort. Even just helping one person feel slightly better is something that is so worthwhile. While we will never know what happens to our texters after that final closing of the conversation, what we do know is that having someone be there to listen to them will have a ripple effect in their lives and may trigger the start of them realising they’re strong enough to get better.
Learn more about Shout.
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