A webchat run by WithYou is breaking down barriers for groups less likely to seek traditional support – with more than two-thirds of all users never before accessing professional help.
In a new report, WithYou has analysed seven years of data from its webchat – a virtual service where people can speak to a trained professional about struggles with drugs, alcohol or mental health.
The charity says its webchat has become an important ‘first port of call’ for thousands of people who might be less likely to approach an in-person drug or alcohol service – more than two thirds (67%) of users haven’t previously accessed professional help.
The webchat provides brief interventions, advice, referrals and emotional support, with 20 per cent of sessions provided outside ‘regular’ working hours when in-person services are not available. This allows working professionals, primary caregivers and other groups who can’t or don’t want to use an in-person service the opportunity to get help.
The service also breaks down barriers by offering help to people hindered by stigma, geography or work-life patterns, whilst acting as a pathfinder signposting people to additional programmes and treatment options.
Commenting on the new report, Robin Pollard, head of policy at WithYou, said, “Our webchat service has become a first port of call for thousands of people across the UK who want help with issues relating to drugs, alcohol or mental health.
“More than two-thirds of people accessing our webchat service haven’t previously reached out for support. Whether this is because of geography, stigma, work schedules, or due to a fear of the unknown, we found this virtual service breaks down many of the barriers people face when seeking support.
“The anonymous, confidential, and instant support we can provide plays a vital role in getting people the support they need, and which they often wouldn’t get anywhere else. However, this work is far from over and we know there is so much more we can do with this service. We look forward to using our insights from this report to expand and refine our offer so that we can reach even more people in the future.”
Abby Bradshaw, a virtual support worker who supports people across the UK from her home in Kent, added, “Whether it’s helping a woman detox from methadone, finding treatment options for someone facing eviction from a residential rehabilitation centre or helping young people with high levels of anxiety after a night out, webchat is a safe space where people can seek help anonymously – either for themselves or to get advice about someone they are worried about, without judgement. Chats come in on a one-to-one basis, allowing our support workers to give that person our full support and attention.
“I have supported people seeking help for struggles with drugs, alcohol and mental health since 2016, working in the webchat since 2020. Knowing that the service has had an incredible impact on people’s ability to make positive changes to their lives, I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. Hopefully, this is just the beginning, we want to expand the webchat service so that we can help more people access support in their own time and in a place where they feel safe.”
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