The notion of barriers to support is a common one in information, advice and guidance, but the particular way it is informing the new Step Finder project we’re working on grew organically out of our teams work.
For example on the discussion boards we’ve seen questions about how to call Samaritans– what actually happens when you pick up the phone? What do you say? What do they say? How do you stop yourself from panicking – or being overheard?. Similarly people have told us how they have been given the details for a walk in centre, but don’t know what to do when they get there – ‘Do I just walk in?’. Sometimes, a bad experience in the past can be a barrier – ‘Oh, I’ve tried going to my GP, they don’t help’ or even ‘I’m scared of the receptionist at the surgery’. Lack of self esteem or confidence can really affect someones ability to follow the guidance or signposting they are given – ‘I’ve got the information on how to get help, but I’m too shy to actually talk to anyone’. The barriers individuals face are often very personal to their situation.
For me, the concept of identifying specific individual barriers and suggesting practical ways to overcome them developed as a way of teaching peer advisors how to personalise their answers to askTheSite relationship questions.
We start by identifying an action from a problem, a piece of advice we might give a user in a certain situation. Something like ‘call the Samaritans’ or ‘visit your GP’ – your standard, one size fits all signposting. Then, in groups, I ask the trainees to imagine that they were talking to someone face to face, someone who, whatever they said, had a good comeback.
They listed all the barriers they could think of – some based on their imagination, others that might have come from the information in the question or given by the user about their situation. Once we had listed all of these, we swapped papers and each group had a go at thinking about what they, as advisors, could say to help the individual overcome this barrier.
It seems that often, when a young person says a service is useless or crap, it’s because that service provide only one size fits all advice, where, after having been told it, the individual is often left thinking ‘well I can’t do that for this, or that reason’. To continue with the metaphor of steps, or stepping stones – the step suggested is too large and the young person can’t see how to make the the smaller steps along the way.
We can help people identify and make these smaller steps in all sorts of ways. We already provide video tours (for example of A&E and a sexual assault referral centre) on TheSite.org. Enabling people to see what actually happens in an unknown and scary place can help them feel more confident about approaching them. Peer to peer support on the discussion boards often gives more personal support – ‘use the self service machines when buying a pregnancy test if you’re shy to face a sales assistant’, ‘write your GP a letter to give it to them in the appointment – then you don’t have to stumble through everything’, ‘use a phone box to call them and get them to call you back’.
In developing Step Finder, we wanted to bring all the experiences of barriers to support and suggestions for overcoming them into one place – somewhere which was more focused on the process of getting support, rather than the individual issues covered throughout TheSite.org.
In a way, I see it as preventing anyone from ever reaching the ‘edge’ of what TheSite.org can provide for them. If they are directed to, for example, a helpline, but there is a personal or practical barrier stopping them from going any further, they fall off the edge. We can no longer help. Soon, we hope that they will be able to come to Step Finder. Underneath a suggestion to call a helpline on TheSite.org (which can be found in, among many other articles, Understanding Depression, Unplanned Pregnancy and Dangerous Drinking), we can link them through to our Step Finder page on calling helplines.
Here they can read suggestions for overcoming common barriers to calling helplines, as well as adding their own personal suggestions and experiences – which in turn could inform others in the future. They might also be able to listen to a recording of what calling a helpline might be like, or read a story by someone who called them in the past. It’s early days of Step Finder yet, but we hope that a section focusing on the process of getting support will add real value to the information, guidance and signposting we provide on TheSite.org – and stop anyone falling off the edge.