Supporting the Deaf community through text
At Shout 85258, we believe that mental health support should be accessible for all. As the UK’s first free, 24/7 text support service we offer silent, confidential and anonymous support for anyone who is struggling to cope.
We’ve partnered with the Deaf health charity SignHealth to reach more people in the Deaf community and to provide 24/7 access to mental health support via text. Deaf people can text DEAF to 85258 for free, confidential, 24/7 support via text message.
Since our partnership launched, we have seen 3% of our texters tell us they are Deaf or Hard of Hearing - this amounts to around 7,000 people. Our data shows that almost 60% of those who texted DEAF to 85258 contacted us because they have no one else to talk to, and around a third of these texters (27%) contacted us because they didn’t have access to a therapist for support.*
We asked our deaf volunteers about some of the barriers the Deaf community can face when it comes to finding mental health support, and whether they think texting is an accessible form of reaching out for help.
Hearing people think that the only form of communication is spoken.
What are some of the barriers that you think make it harder for deaf people to reach out for mental health support?
The main barrier is that hearing people think that the only form of communication is spoken. Contacting mental health support often involves having to phone. This is actually true of all health care, including my audiologist. When I say I cannot make an appointment by phone, I am told to get someone to do it for me, which is disempowering and infantilising. Fortunately, I am strong enough to argue the case, but many D/deaf people are not, and rather than stand up for what they need, they will avoid such situations.
If you have to access services with the aid of an interpreter, then that third party is privy to discussions of a personal, sensitive and sometimes intimate nature.
Deaf people are also generally marginalised in society and they/we often feel we will not be treated fairly or reasonably, as if there is something wrong with us, rather than us having different capabilities.
I think the main barrier is the lack of accessible information prevents D/deaf people from reaching out for support. It is vital that information is made accessible, for example in BSL, so that D/deaf people can get the support they require.
Do you think texting is an accessible form of mental health support for deaf people?
Yes it is as it enables D/deaf people to get the support in the way they feel comfortable. It also is confidential and anonymous which may encourage D/deaf people to open up.
Yes for many, no for some. Not all Deaf people are the same. I would estimate that over 85% are able to text. But it is very important that we do not forget that Shout 85258 is not a counselling service. Thus for crises I think it is very good although there will be others who need BSL access.
Being able to share your thoughts and feelings with another human being, who will listen and support without judgement, is empowering and powerful.
Why did you want to become a Shout Volunteer and what has your experience of volunteering been like?
I love Shout. I love the setup, the platform, the support, the motivation. I feel like I am able to make a difference. The conversations are structured and I think this helps both the texter and volunteer.
I find the whole service incredibly valuable and am proud to be a Shout Volunteer and tell people about the service. I also find it amazingly different; almost every message that comes through comes from someone in genuine need of help. I have encouraged a few friends to think about becoming a volunteer. I want to continue to try and reach and engage with other deaf volunteers.
What would you say to a deaf person who is thinking about reaching out for support?
Have a go, see what it is like. Remember that all of us volunteers have had over 20 hours training as well as continued support from our supervisors and coaches always.
Talk to us, and help us to help you. You are not alone. Being able to share your thoughts and feelings with another human being, who will listen and support without judgement, is empowering and powerful. We are here for you.
Do reach out - the service is there for you. The volunteers are there to listen and support you throughout your crisis and there is no judgement at all.
We know that when it comes to accessibility for deaf people, there is still more to be done, and we listen to feedback from our texters, volunteers and staff to continually improve our service.
If you’re deaf and feel like you’re struggling to cope, text DEAF to 85258 for free, confidential support, 24/7.
* Data from Shout’s post-conversations survey.