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Exam results season is a daunting one for many young people - it’s a time when the anxiety and anticipation of what’s to come can feel overwhelming. We often see people reaching out to our Shout text service for support ahead of getting their exam results.

In our latest interview, we speak to James Dove from our commissioned partner Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes public health service (which works with the Integrated Care Board to commission the Shout service locally), on how its partnership with us is helping to support young people in the community with their mental health, particularly as a 24/7, free and confidential digital service.

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James Dove, from our commissioned partner Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes public health service

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role?

My role is focused on improving and protecting the health of children, young people and families across Milton Keynes. This can involve leading commissioning of services, supporting projects and advocating for prevention. I’m part of a wider group of colleagues who work across Bedfordshire and Luton, including those who jointly commission Mental Health Innovations (MHI).

I have been in this role for just over two years. My first job was in community development and youth work in Bedford - a very long time ago!

Why did you commission Mental Health Innovations and what does that involve for your community?

In the summer of 2022, we reviewed our offer of advice and information on mental health for children and young people. This involved looking at national sources of support, our local offer and most importantly what mattered to those who would use the service.

The young people we spoke to were clear they wanted a service that was flexible, responsive and available 24/7.

Following conversations with a number of services, we agreed that a messenger service would best fit our approach in Bedfordshire, Luton & Milton Keynes. Our Integrated Care Board (ICB) led this process with support from public health teams. It was a real collaborative effort, with me being one piece of a much bigger jigsaw to bring it all together.

After further discussions with MHI, our new ‘Reflect’ service launched in February 2023, which along with other services comprised the keyword service we run via Shout. Anyone in Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes can text the word REFLECT to 85258 to start a conversation with a trained volunteer.

How does a digital service complement your other services?

In our review, young people were very clear that they wanted a better balance between digital and face-to-face provision. They valued both and recognised that they can meet the needs of people in different ways. There is definitely room for both.

Our ‘Reflect’ service is therefore one part of a wider system of mental health and wellbeing support that we are continually seeking to develop and improve.

With exam results coming up, why is it important to you to be supporting young people with their mental health and wellbeing at this time?

It is natural and normal to be worried about exams and when changes take place. However, we know exams may place greater stress on young people and this can impact on their mental health and wellbeing. For example, they may become more anxious and notice changes in their day-to-day routines (e.g. eating and sleeping).

We hope that young people can access support they need over the coming weeks and months. We have provided schools and partners with the latest details of mental health and wellbeing services, as well as some additional ‘exam stress’ materials that promote ‘Reflect’. We also hope to use a similar approach at different times of year that we know can be more difficult.

How has the service helped you understand more about your community’s mental health and their needs?

Through our bespoke keyword REFLECT, we are able to glean aggregated and anonymised data insights into the issues our community are facing. Our early data suggests that the text service is being used by young people who require additional support and need a service outside of traditional ‘office hours’. For example, we’ve seen that the biggest presenting issue was anxiety and the most popular time to request support was 9pm. Over 94% of young people found the service helpful which is a positive start.

Our early data suggests that the text service is being used by young people who require additional support and need a service outside of traditional ‘office hours’.

We look forward to seeing what the next round of data tells us. We see this an opportunity for some ‘real time’ evidence on the mental health and wellbeing needs of children and young people in Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes.