Smartphone app created by Nottingham graduate offers counselling by text

Spill team 1
27 Jun 2018 11:47:36.090

It’s good to talk. Most young people these days find communicating using smartphones or social media isn’t a problem, yet talking about personal issues can still be a difficult and taboo subject.                                 

Gavin Dhesi, a former University of Nottingham student, realised there was an obvious gap in mental health support today. He developed a new smartphone app called Spill, which offers an online service, where users can feel safe talking to a trained counsellor from the comfort of their own device and without having to book a face-to-face appointment. 

Spill began life in 2017, developed by Gavin and co-founders Dr Annemarie O’Connor and Calvin Benton. The app links the user to a team of counsellors, registered with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). The user gains contact with a team of up to three counsellors, with at least one of them always available to respond to a text. Users can send an unlimited number of messages and can expect a maximum of two responses per day.
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The ability to afford therapy is also an issue for many people as it is rarely cheap. Although Spill is not designed to replace treatment for those with diagnosed mental health problems, for a small monthly fee, it is an affordable preventative tool for those who are bottling things up, and becoming anxious or worried. 

Gavin, who graduated from the University in 2014, said:

“There is often a stigma attached to talking to a counsellor and often society only deems it necessary when we have had a formal diagnosis.

“We designed Spill so people can come on to talk about whatever is on their mind, no matter how small.”

The entrepreneur originally developed Spill as a business to business initiative. Working with the likes of property company Rightmove, Timeout Magazine and banking app Monzo, Spill offers message-based counselling to business employees. At Rightmove, the service was made available to 490 staff and was downloaded by 132 of them.

There are currently 500 people signed up to the app through their employers, and 50 BACP-qualified counsellors on Spill records to service them.

After finding out that a lot of employees were trying to refer their friends or family to use the app, and noticing that there was an uptake in users, Spill began testing a direct-to-consumer version of the app earlier this year that has already seen an overwhelming number of people sign up to use it. It now has over 1,000 people on the waiting list.

Research from IKEA of 12,000 people across 12 major cities found that 68 per cent of people preferred to communicate with others via messaging services rather than face-to-face. Online counselling is a relatively new offering to the UK market and its ease and appeal is beginning to be recognised due to its ‘anywhere, anytime’ nature.

The Spill app reached the semi-final stages for the Santander Universities Entrepreneur Awards 2018 in the Technology Business category. The semi-final event took place in Strathclyde on 26 June.

On making it as far as the semi-final stage, Gavin said: 

“Getting to the semi-finals was brilliant and a real credit to how hard the team have worked. We are quite a young team and know first-hand how important this app could be for students who have a lot of pressure from exams and the change in lifestyle. We're hoping that the award can bring greater awareness to a modern way in thinking about support.”

The Santander awards are aimed at giving a financial boost to student and graduate business ventures in their early stages. Businesses compete for a share of the prize money as well as access to a range of other prizes designed to support and help grow their business.

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Notes to editors: 

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world's top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our 44,000 students - Nottingham was named University of the Year for Graduate Employment in the 2017 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, was awarded gold in the TEF 2017 and features in the top 20 of all three major UK rankings. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

Story credits

Liz Goodwin - Media Officer

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 95 15798 Location: University Park

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Published Date
Tuesday 7th February 2012

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