Thought leadership

Too much to do and not enough time to do it in? It’s not just you, according to retail chain Marks and Spencer. It is offering 11 of its cafes to host fortnightly mental health chat sessions for those feeling overwhelmed by the stresses of modern life.

The aim of the sessions is to offer a space where people can talk openly with others about how they’re feeling.

The initiative is part of a partnership with comedian Ruby Wax, who has spoken often about her battle with depression. Ms Wax has long campaigned for better mental health provision.

She says the idea for the so-called “Frazzled Cafe” came from her “Sane New World” tour, based on her book of the same name which examines the rise of mental health problems in the modern world.

When the show ran in London’s West End, the theatre offered similar weekly walk-in sessions.

Ms Wax says the cafes are not just for the one in four of us who will suffer a mental health problem at some point during our life, but for the “four in four” who are finding the strains of modern life too much.

Marks and Spencer will initially offer the fortnightly sessions in just 11 of its stores: three in London, alongside Brighton, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Cambridge, Nottingham, Leeds, Newcastle, Canterbury and Norwich.

But spokesman Daniel Himsworth said it “absolutely” planned to add more locations.

“Our main contribution is space,” said Mr Himsworth, but he said M&S had also helped the not-for-profit initiative with some of its set-up costs.

The sessions are held in cafes once they have closed to the general public. Spaces are limited and anyone wanting to attend a session needs to sign up via the Frazzled Cafe website.

M&S has already trialled the sessions in London and Brighton and in its own offices.

The company’s retail director, Sacha Berendji, said the aim of the cafes was to offer “a simple, pressure-free way of tackling what can be a taboo subject – feeling stressed”.

He added: “We hope that by providing free and calm venues after the cafe has closed, we can help any members of the community who simply need to talk about things and what’s happening in their lives.”

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