Meet the former Newcastle University student who opened a mental health helpline

Editor Ella Williams interviews the former student about his new phone line, aimed at getting students talking about their mental health

Ella Williams
24th May 2021
Feature Image: Ella Williams
From moving away from home for the first time and being stuck in halls to missing out on social events and graduations, student mental health is at an all time low. Knowing first-hand what it’s like to struggle, former Newcastle student Oscar Slacke set up Street Talk, a dedicated helpline aimed at getting students talking about mental health.

“We’re trying to break down the stigma; we want to make it completely normal to reach out for help,” Oscar said. 

The 21-year-old came to Newcastle to study Sociology in 2018, but dropped out five months later after his mental health started to suffer. Keen to help others, he signed up to a counselling course in the first lockdown. 

This inspired him to start the service, which has grown to a team of over 90 volunteers since October. Everyone involved has undergone extensive training, including taking mock calls practicing a wide range of scenarios.

“I’ve always been very passionate about mental health,” he explained. “I’d seen my friends suffering as well, so I wanted to do my bit.” 

Image: Ella Williams

All recruits on call are either students or young people themselves, which he hopes  creates a connection with callers with the offset.

Street Talk is open to all, but Oscar wants the line to be for there for the bad days and lonely moments as much as more serious cases. He describes it as a “preventative service”.

“I think that ‘helpline’ has this idea attached to it that you’ve got to be at the end of your tether.”

“I think that ‘helpline’ has this idea attached to it that you’ve got to be at the end of your tether.”

“But you know, if you’ve just got home from a hard day at work, or you’re going through a tough break up or just feel a bit down. We’re there.”

Oscar has experienced the repercussions of what he calls “lad culture”, and speaks of his peers finding it difficult to open up.

“This tendency in men to bottle things up can be quite toxic. A lot of what we do is aimed at trying to encourage men to speak up about it more freely, and make that less of a big deal.” 

“Though of course we are there for anyone who wants to call,” he adds. 

Starting a helpline from scratch is no easy feat: he described it as “hard work” and “often tiring” managing a team of nearly 100 people. When asked what the most rewarding part of the project was, Oscar responded without hesitation:  

“Definitely knowing that we're helping people firsthand. Even if it’s  just a 20 minute conversation, knowing that if we weren’t there, they might not have called anyone at all.”

Street Talk is available everyday from 6pm to midnight. Call them at 0333 242 3957, or visit their Instagram @StreetTalkLine. 

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