As the Mental Health Taskforce launches its strategy, Doncaster’s Talking Shop discusses how high street access to therapy helps people get support without stigma.
The ‘shop’ run by Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust allows members of the public to walk in off the street if they need help for problems such as depression, panic or phobias, or simply to access free information or advice.
Talking Shop opened in 2010 as a public information centre and the headquarters for the psychological therapies service in the town, which was one of the IAPT national demonstrator sites.
It had the full backing of commissioners and Involve, a local patient support group whose members came up with its name, and helped design key materials.
In its first year, 2006-7, the IAPT service received 3,995 referrals, with a self-referral rate of just 0.3 per cent. By 2014/15, referrals had soared to 10,250, with a self-referral rate of 23 per cent.
RDaSH service manager Jim MacDonald said; “The vision really was to provide a kind of one-stop on the high street that was easily accessible, where people could come in and get advice, get information on psychological services, and if necessary be seen for a triage appointment.
“Also to provide a building that was central where people could be seen, and which would allow us to reach out to different groups in the community and be a hub.
“Mental health is everyone’s business. We’re part of the community. We’re out there in the community, promoting it, selling it, embedding it and doing it. And that’s a good thing.”
Initially operating over two-floors of a rented property, Talking Shop has since taken over the rest of the building to offer six consultation rooms above the staff accommodation and the extensive resource hub still located on its ground floor.
As well as enabling people to walk in from the street, referrals to psychological therapies are still also made by GPs or other providers.
Most of the psychological wellbeing practitioners are based at Doncaster’s 43 GP practices but those who cannot be accommodated in surgeries see clients at Talking Shop. Group therapy sessions are also held there and other agencies also use the premises.
An e-service, Talking Sense, is available for those who might be away from home, such as students or commuters, using a secure online platform similar to Skype.
Talking Shop staff are also focused on identifying and halting issues such as loneliness before they evolve into a deeper problem, such as depression.
Psychological wellbeing practitioner Nicole Harper, who has worked at Talking Shop since its launch, said: “Sometimes 10 minutes is all a person needs, to speak to someone.
“Even if they don’t need therapy as such we’ve got a lot of information of where they might need to be signposted to, things like carers’ support, things like drug and alcohol services, even just local social things if people are feeling a bit isolated.”
In 2012, convinced by the approach, RDaSH opened a second Talking Shop in Scunthorpe.
Jim added: “People maybe don’t want to see their GP or can’t make an appointment with their GP and there are all these hurdles they’ve got to jump. But here they can just walk in.”
Kathy Wilson, 57, began using the IAPT service in 2009 after a breakdown, through which she lost her home and her job. Following intensive therapy and support, she’s now employed full time with a community enterprise, and works with Doncaster’s Talking Shop to help others facing similar problems.
“I lost my house, I lost my car, my job, I was suicidal,” she said. “I never thought I would work again but it’s thanks to the people at the Talking Shop and my therapist that I was able to get to where I am now.
“I’m always saying to people, ‘if you need to talk to anybody just go there’. It’s so easy and it’s helping to break down barriers as well. I’m very open about my mental health now, and I think the more barriers about mental health that are broken down the better. We’ve got to get rid of the negativity around mental health and Talking Shop is helping to get rid of that stigma.”
The vision for Talking Shop’s future could include bigger premises and bringing in more agencies to help narrow the gap between physical and mental health.
Jim said: “I’d like a bigger building, more space, getting things in like CAB, more citizens advice, benefits advice, employment people, having them embedded in with us. Even some other services, early interventions for young people, more general health, alcohol, stopping smoking, bring it all together so we would then have a social and health hub.
“I think the council and health service, if we all work together and we think more about it, be more proactive about it, then the logistics can be overcome. And you’d get economies of scale as well.”
Geraldine Strathdee, NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Mental Health, said: “Having psychological therapies and wellbeing advice available on the High Street is helping to break down the barriers around mental health in Doncaster.
“This approach could so easily be replicated in other areas where services are housed near or within town centres, making it far easier for people to reach services more quickly.”