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M&S launches mental health drop-ins as part of Ruby Wax project

Marks & Spencer is to host mental health drop-ins in its store cafes as part of initiative designed to soothe stressed shoppers.

The Frazzled Cafe project is fronted by the comedian and mental health campaigner Ruby Wax. The fortnightly sessions, which will be hosted by trained volunteers in restaurants that have closed for the day, will initially be held in 11 stores with more locations to be added in the coming months. The branches taking part include three in London as well as outlets in Nottingham, Leeds and Newcastle.

The retailer said the sessions were “not therapy” but aimed to provide a space “where people can talk openly with others who understand how they are feeling”.

“We live in a time where to have a life crammed to the hilt is considered a success story,” said Wax. “But with all this pressure, so many of us have nowhere to go to meet and talk about it. Frazzled Cafe is about people coming together to share their stories, calmly sitting together, stating their case and feeling validated as a result.”

The project was trialled in some M&S offices and two stores last year with the decision to commit to the project confirmed today at an event hosted by Wax at the London Book Fair. The Frazzled Cafe project, which is in the process of becoming a registered charity, stemmed from the public response to Wax’s book A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled and the accompanying theatre show.

“It’s special to get a company like M&S on board,” Wax added. “I’m grateful for the set-up support they’ve given us and access to their cafe network is a huge boost.”

The economic cost of mental health problems in the UK is estimated at roughly £105bn a year with some 4m prescriptions for antidepressants written annually. Last year official figures showed the number of antidepressants given to patients in England has doubled in a decade.

“This is a simple, pressure-free way of tackling what can be a taboo subject – feeling stressed,” said M&S retail director Sacha Berendji of the partnership, which is part of the company’s Plan A eco and ethical initiative. “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.”