Rochdale start-up aims to tackle mental health crisis by making help and support accessible for everyone

Date published: 10 December 2021

A new Rochdale start-up is aiming to tackle the mental health crisis by making help and support accessible for everyone.

Co-created by CEO Toby Nolan, Candle is a social support platform providing peer-to-peer mental health support in mind.

“I’ve seen how difficult it is for people to get mental health support,” Mr Nolan explained. “Working in different safeguarding roles, I realised the social-technological barrier was an issue.

“Therapy can be great, but accessing this through the NHS can be a slow process. It can be like wading through mud. I wanted this support to be available through tech, providing the skills for normal people to support each other with mental health problems, addiction, anxiety, etc.

“Candle provides this support by giving you the skills and technology to make giving and receiving support normal, informal and effective.

With as many as one in four of us experiencing a mental health problem, it’s no surprise that waiting times for therapy with the NHS can be weeks, if not months.

Candle can be used in a variety of ways, and Mr Nolan demonstrated exactly how it works to Rochdale Online. The platform can be used on a desktop as well as phones or tablets.

If you feel like you’re in crisis, you can ‘light your candle’ – which lets other people in your network know that you need help now. Your networks are known as circles, which can be personal or work-centred.

Mr Nolan demonstrated – and our reporter’s phone pinged with a message: “Hey! Toby Nolan has lit their candle. Can you give them a call or text?”

Several prompted suggestions are provided too, if you feel you know why you feel how you do – such as feeling overwhelmed, grief, insomnia and anxiety – and tapping a button makes communicating this much easier than saying the words out loud.

An email sent in tandem with the text outlines some of these reasons: Mr Nolan selected “I feel overwhelmed” for our demonstration.

He said: “The converse is also true; if you’re feeling, for example, bullied at work, you can highlight this internally without anyone else knowing.”

“If someone lights their candle, it might be the first time they’ve tried to articulate their feelings, thoughts or experiences. It can be difficult for them – but in giving support, you’re not required to try and solve the problem. Your role as a first responder is to listen, validate and comfort them. Just knowing they need some support can really help.

“It can be hard to know what to say, but try to be honest and understanding, patient and compassionate.”

And you also know when that person is feeling better too – when they feel better and extinguish their candle, a follow-up message is sent: “Toby Nolan is feeling better! Thank you for supporting them.”

“Your network can consist of people in the workplace, friends or family,” Mr Nolan said. “And you can keep these separate. If you’re experiencing poor mental health because of something outside work, you don’t have to contact your work network if you don’t want to.”


Candle provides peer-to-peer mental health support


Alternatively, you can access the ‘meadow’, a mental health support curriculum using various web resources such as helpful news articles, NHS resources, plus little pick-me-ups like feel-good music playlists, reminders to eat well, tips to improve your mood and inspirational quotes.

The platform itself has been designed to be accessible, even its colours have been carefully chosen to be considerate of anyone who is colourblind whilst the use of the word ‘humans’ instead of users has also been deliberately chosen.

Mr Nolan added: “For employers, unresolved mental health issues can, on average, cost upwards of £3,000 per employee a year,  according to Deloitte, which is a lot of money. One of our aims was to provide this help with a much lower figure.

“Our primary research matches global research on depression and anxiety, that a small portion of those who need it, access it. It’s about breaking down that social and human stigma by using tech to make it easy to reach out or support someone.

“Sometimes you can’t manage yourself when you’re in crisis and you do need someone else; being able to add that person next to you can be a priceless resource.”

Since founding Candle in April 2020, Mr Nolan has recruited an expert non-executive team including Elaine Bousfield founder of Kooth PLC, alongside former NHS GPs and therapists to bolster Candle’s clinical utility and commercial appeal.

Early on, Tom Summerscales became an early investor in Candle, eventually joining Candle as an official co-founder.

Mr Nolan added: “When Candle was just an idea, I was in touch with Richard Tang at Zen who very graciously gave us directions for our next steps, which was very helpful.

“We launched Candle by taking it to small customers and EFL clubs, presenting it at their sessions. “We’re also talking to multi-nationals with an extremely large workforce.”

For an employer, you can see if the support provided to someone is internal or external, and a default responder can be designated in the workplace. Employers can invite their workforce to use Candle, and an interactive dashboard shows how many candles are being lit across the company.

Businesses can request a demo of Candle, as well as access mental health training. A year’s worth of support starts from £39, with custom options available for larger businesses.

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