Words by Abi Scaife
Finding somewhere safe when you're having a mental health crisis can be incredibly difficult. Whether you need to find the nearest GP or hospital – or simply need somewhere safe you can sit down and ride out your panic attack – it isn’t always easy.
That is what Laura Dernie realised when she had a panic attack at a music festival and was left with nowhere to go.
“But wouldn't it be amazing if I could have just looked somewhere … and seen where I could have gone for help,” says Laura, whose incredible children helped her back to their tent. “I couldn't have made it to the first aid area because it was too far away. When you’re having that attack … your brain doesn't logically think.”
Laura is the founder of My Discombobulated Brain, a Wales-based mental health charity that helps educate people about mental illnesses and tackle the stigma associated with having a mental health problem.
“I lost my best friend Jonathan to suicide at 18, and then suffered with my own mental health issues when I was pregnant and afterwards,” explains Laura, as to why she started the charity in the first place. “The more I spoke about it, the more people approached me saying, ‘Oh, God, I'm suffering too.’”
From there it spiralled, as Laura realised that so many more people than she realised were suffering from mental health issues, and the conversation needed to change.
Since founding My Discombobulated Brain in 2016, Laura has created Safe Spaces with Big Lemon, a Welsh technology company.
Safe Spaces is a web-based app that uses your location to help you find the mental health care you need when you need it. Currently only based in Cardiff, Laura has connected with businesses and companies across the city to curate an easily accessible map of places you can turn to when you are experiencing a mental health crisis.
“We’ve helped to build something that’s quick and easy to update as Laura adds more and more venues,” said Sam Wheeler, the director of Big Lemon.
“We’ve worked closely with Laura to understand what the charity needs and the context in which the user will be accessing the app. As a committed tech-with-purpose business and certified B Corp, we are proud to be developing the technology behind such an important, innovative and much-needed project.”
When opening the web app, you're able to choose the level of help you need. From there you are given a map of where you are currently, and everything that is available to you - the app even provides you with an image of the building so you know exactly where to go.
From GPs and mental health professionals to a quiet room in a high-street shop, Safe Spaces allows you to choose the kind of help you need right then and there. Depending on whether you feel that all you need is a quiet sit down, or if you know you need assistance from a professional, the app is designed to be accessible and discreet.
“It’s free for businesses to sign up to be a mental health space,” explains Laura, who has signed up big names such as Waterstones and Côte Brasserie. “All it takes is a phone call with me and a spreadsheet to go through.”
Laura was determined that this be a free service for anyone and everyone to use, to make sure that help is just a click away.
Among the businesses that have signed up to be a safe mental health space is Kin and Ilk, a chain of speciality coffee shops based in Cardiff. All of their six locations have signed up to be a safe space where people who are experiencing a mental health crisis can find refuge.
“Initially it will take you on a map to show you the way to get there. It'll show you a picture of what the building looks like on the outside,” explains Laura. “You go in and [can] show them the app or you could sit anywhere in that premises unless there's like a specified [place], and you will be given any support that you need.”
By signing up for Safe Spaces, staff members and managers will be trained to help people who come in looking for a safe space, to provide them with the care that they need. Additionally, Safe Spaces will continue to work with businesses to train their staff, to help them provide the care that is necessary to help those in need.
Currently, Laura and Safe Spaces are working with Cardiff University, so their students know where to get help when they need it.