Young people get quick mental health support

Charlotte Goddard
Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Free service offers young people one-to-one and group counselling with no waiting list, giving children and families immediate support when they need it.

Stop Breathe Think aims to respond all referrals to the service within 24 hours
Stop Breathe Think aims to respond all referrals to the service within 24 hours


Stop Breathe Think


To provide mental health support to young people through free one-to-one counselling


Funding mainly comes from donations and sponsorship, with major donors including Gompels HealthCare and investment company AJ Bell. Organisations referring more than 10 young people are asked to contribute to the costs. To provide one young personwith counselling support costs up to £750


Stop Breathe Think is run by charity Switch180 and has its origins in the pandemic. The initiative grew out of another project – Snow Camp – which aims to bring about positive change for disadvantaged young people by involving them in snowsports.

As well as training young people to be snowsports instructors, Snow Camp offers wider support with life skills, qualifications, and work placements. In 2018, 83 per cent of young participants said they would benefit from greater support with their mental health and emotional wellbeing. As a result, mental health support through targeted workshops, mindfulness training, one-to-one and group counselling sessions became key components of the courses.

Although forced to put away the skis and snowboards when Covid hit, Snow Camp didn’t want to close its doors to young people and moved its wider support online. Stop Breathe Think started out as a mindfulness campaign then developed into an online mental health service offering free counselling sessions.

Take-up was so positive the charity decided to keep the service going when lockdown ended. “We saw how much it was needed and we couldn’t just turn off the tap,” says Switch180 head of marketing Anna Hinks.

In January 2022 Switch180 was launched to deliver both programmes, with the potential to deliver other services in the future.


Stop Breathe Think supports young people aged between eight and 21. Professionals working with children and young people can make referrals and children and young people can also refer themselves or be referred by their parents. Organisations can refer up to 10 young people for free but are asked to contribute to some of the costs through a range of partnership packages if referring more than 10. “As a charity our hope is organisations will help contribute to some of the costs after the initial 10 places,” says Hinks. “Not only will this make the service sustainable, but it will enable us to provide further vital support to young people in their communities.”

There are no waiting lists and Stop Breathe Think aims to reply to all referrals within 24 hours. “Current waiting times to receive professional help are at an all-time high and there a lot of young people struggling to find support,” says Hinks. “So a service young people can access without delay is really needed.” Once the organisation has received a referral form, which is available on the Stop Breathe Think website, it arranges a chat with the child or young person to find out more about them and talk them through the process. If they are happy to start counselling, they are allocated six 50-minute sessions with a further six available if needed.

Sessions take place on the phone, or via text or video call, at a frequency that suits the young person – often weekly, or twice a week. Young people can also access wellbeing drop-in sessions, short 30-minute calls with the on-call counsellor, between 9am and 9pm every day.

At present 267 children and young people are receiving counselling support. Stop Breathe Think uses a team of around 50 counsellors provided by JHD Counselling Services, a professional organisation that ensures they have the appropriate qualifications and training. “We have a team of counsellors working with us across the country, specialising in a wide range of issues, so we try to match every young person with a counsellor that specialises in their needs,” says Hinks. “JHD are responsible for finding the best counsellors to work with us, those who specialise in young people, and they manage the recruitment process, supervision and training for us.” The fact the sessions are delivered remotely means young people can be matched with the best counsellor for them regardless of geography.

Young people are asked to make sure they are in a private place when accessing the sessions. Parents are generally asked not to be a part of the session as young people are more likely to open up without another adult in the room. The approach does depend on age, and young people under 13 will usually have an adult close by. Young people who self-refer often have a greater need for privacy. Some young people prefer to communicate with their counsellor by text, finding it more private.

If a counsellor believes the young person or others are at risk, they will notify the safeguarding team, which will decide whether a young person’s emergency contact or support network needs to be notified and involved.

Some children and young people will need more support than 12 sessions can provide. Stop Breathe Think’s strength is that it can offer support immediately, giving families a breathing space during which they can find more long-term help, says Hinks. “We have got potentially 12 weeks to help families find further support or get on the child and adolescent mental health services waiting list – but we are there to make sure they have got that support when they need it in that moment.”

In 2020 Switch180 carried out a survey with research company Censuswide and found more than 60 per cent of young people were feeling more anxious with three out of five believing lockdown had negatively affected their mental health. Some of the most common difficulties faced by young people accessing the service are anxiety, self-harm, and self-esteem issues, with suicidal thoughts and feelings also prevalent. The charity provides a number of online video guides on issues such as understanding anger and managing anxiety at


Between November 2020 and March 2022, 1,342 young people accessed Stop Breathe Think, which provided 7,469 counselling sessions in total. To date, 90 per cent of young people rated their Stop Breathe Think counselling experience as excellent, 85 per cent would recommend the project to a friend or family member and 94 per cent said they feel like they can now manage their feelings and/or are now in a better place mentally.


Switch180 plans to promote and expand Stop Breathe Think but needs to do this gradually to avoid swamping the service. “We don’t want to do a big social media campaign and all of a sudden have thousands of young people messaging us, putting a strain on our ability to support them,” says Hinks. The charity also hopes to work in partnership with organisations that can contribute to the costs of delivery. Next year is Snow Camp’s 20th anniversary and there are plans for fundraising events for both Switch180 programmes. The charity also plans to expand Snow Camp, currently available in London, the North West, Midlands and Glasgow, to more areas across the UK.

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