A problem-solving booth for Mental Health Awareness Week 2017

18 May 2017

It’s a beautiful sunny day in Camden Town, and teams from our Patient and Public Involvement department, Camden Council and the social enterprise Owls are heading to the Lock to set up a bold new Mental Health initiative.

Problem-solving booth with two participants

The Problem Solving Booth brings members of the community together to have conversations that they might not usually have, by helping each other with their problems. One chair is for the “Helper”, the person listening to the problems, and the other for the “Helped”, the person describing their concerns. The aim of the Booth, however, is that people swap roles regularly as we all have both the potential to have problems as well as to offer help. To the side of the chairs is a board where people can leave their ideas about other things that could help their communities with the “stresses in their heads”.

The aim of the booth is to enable conversations that would not usually happen. These might be between community members or between a professional and a community member, where the professional is asking for help. Both of these help to turn help seeking on its head.  They offer an alternative to the more traditional idea of going to a professional for help. It normalises the idea of talking to others about our problems, and helps us to move away from the idea that we need to be going through a crisis before we ask for help. Many have found that being the “Helper” and listening to others’ problems has been both rewarding and empowering, and that talking to a stranger can allow someone to open up in a way they might not feel comfortable with someone close.

Problem-solving booth

The Problem Solving Booth was an idea suggested by a young person who when asked what would help the “stresses in his head”, he said “a problem solving booth right here on my street”. Owls has led the testing and development of this idea in close partnership with Lisa Clarke, Community Resilience In Action Project Lead at Camden Council. Other partners include Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, The MET Police in Hounslow and The Association of Camerados.

Owls is a new social enterprise, founded by Dr. Charlie Howard, which exists to work in partnership with organisations and members of the public to find creative solutions to mental health. Charlie is joined at Owls by Nina Browne, also a Clinical Psychologist. 

Problem-solving booth - Lisa Clarke and Dr Charlie Howard

Lisa Clarke and Dr Charlie Howard

“We had no idea what the reception would be when we set up our first booth,” says Lisa. “It was nerve-wracking as we didn’t know what would happen when talking about mental health on the street, but people’s reactions were brilliant, as was their offer of help and further ideas."

 “Solutions to mental health lie with listening to communities and building solutions with them,” says Dr Howard, the Director of Owls. “And in partnering with other organisations as no one organisation holds all the solutions.”

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