This time last year many of us left our offices for the last time, shutting down our laptops with a ‘see you when I see you then’ - we didn’t imagine it would be more than a year later.
When the Prime Minister announced a national lockdown on 23rd March, as the pandemic continued to take hold, we knew little about what the year ahead would hold.
There is no doubt that this has been an incredibly challenging time for so many. From those who have lost loved one, jobs, financial security, freedom, to our incredible frontline who have been working tirelessly and under pressure to support the nation, this pandemic has touched us all in some way.
Yet throughout the adversity, kindness and support has also shone through. It was the year that brought us Sir Captain Tom Moore, clap for carers and stories of communities brought together by acts of goodwill.
At Shout 85258, we’ve seen the impact this pandemic has had on people’s mental health first hand as we’ve seen the number of people reaching out for support almost double.
Throughout the adversity, kindness and support has also shone through.
Every single one of those conversations has been someone who has needed to be listened to in the moment. Whether a texter has felt anxious about lockdown, lonely or isolated, had relationship problems or felt hopeless and low, our volunteers have been there for each of them.
There are many things we can say we’ve learnt from this last year, but we’ve narrowed it down to some of the things we think are worth ‘shouting’ about.
1. A digital response to the pandemic
When the lockdown first hit, Shout 85258 was in a unique position to be able to continue to be fully operational as normal. The nature of our service and the digital platform we provide meant that volunteers could continue to take conversations from the comfort of their homes as normal. As more people were reaching out for support, we were able to respond quickly and effectively, highlighting the need for digital tools in mental health intervention.
2. Conversation volumes nearly doubled compared to pre-pandemic as people needed ‘in the moment’ support
The number of people texting the service for help has increased from 475 per day to 925 per day since the start of the pandemic. Text conversations rose from 750 in March 2020 to 1,400 per day in early January 2021, highlighting the increasing need of support for many.
3. The kindness of strangers has shone through
What started with a small group of people with a seed of an idea to help provide mental health support through digital innovation, has grown into a community of 2,500 volunteers in both the UK and New Zealand, 80+ staff, and more than 650,000 conversations with people in need of support.
We’ve seen kindness in swathes. Applications to volunteer with Shout continued to grow throughout the year, as many people felt that they wanted to give something back and support others during this time. And it’s been appreciated. Those are hundreds of thousands of conversations where more than half of the texters didn’t feel they had anyone else they could talk to. During a time that has taken a huge mental toll on so many people, the kindness of strangers has shone through.
As a result of demand, we’ve expanded our volunteer community in New Zealand, so that we have people on the platform supporting our texters round the clock.
We’ve been blown away by our volunteer community. From scientists to poets, bakers to artists, illustrators to designers, we have a host of creativity and problem solvers among us and even a Royal volunteer in The Duke of Cambridge (watch this video of The Duke revealing he was part of our community).
If you’re interested in joining our volunteer community, we’re currently looking for people who can take shifts from 8pm onwards. Please visit www.giveusashout.org/volunteer for more information.
4. More than a third of people (38%) have never spoken to anyone else before reaching out to a Shout Volunteer
When you contact Shout, we want to make you feel safe, listened to and supported. For many of our texters, it’s their first experience of reaching out not just to us, but to anyone about how they’re feeling. It’s a big deal, and one we don’t take lightly. More than one in three people who have texted Shout for help have never spoken to anyone else about their worries. Digital intervention via text, especially during the pandemic, has become a key means for people to start a conversation about their mental health.
An incredible testament to this is the story of 12-year-old Jack*, who was standing on a bridge feeling suicidal when he reached into his pocket, took out his phone and sent a message to Shout. A volunteer listened to and supported Jack and encouraged him to call 999. The first Jack’s parents knew of the extent he was struggling was when the emergency services called them to tell them he was safe.
*Jack’s identity has been changed to protect anonymity.
5. Support is at your fingertips (and straight up and down your keyboard)
Text is a powerful medium. This holds true particularly for our younger texters; 65% of whom are under the age of 25. Text is discreet, accessible and confidential. You can be anywhere and have a conversation - sitting in front of the TV, on the bus, walking home from school - and no one can overhear you. Support is just a text away.
And the best trick to remember our number? 85258 is straight up and down the middle of your keyboard - the numbers are vertically aligned.
6. Issues that people text us about have varied with each lockdown
The pandemic has provoked much anxiety among texters. In more than half of the conversations where texters mentioned the virus, they also had anxiety as an issue; more than double the usual number.
Analyses of our conversations revealed that this anxiety pre-lockdown was often associated with uncertainty and what the impact of lockdown would be.
Once lockdown was underway, people started to talk to us more about feeling trapped and having a lack of routine.
The main reasons people texted Shout during this time in general were suicide (34%), depression/sadness (33%), anxiety/stress (32%), relationships (27%), isolation/loneliness (18%) and self-harm (15%).
Out of all age groups, it was 18 - 24 year-olds who were most likely to talk to us about suicide.
Our volunteers are trained to assess risk in every conversation, create a safe space for texters to talk about the pain they’re experiencing and de-escalate the risk of suicide. We do also provide active rescues - an intervention by the emergency services to dispatch a wellness check to people we believe to be at imminent risk of ending their life or experiencing danger as a result of a safeguarding issue. You can find out more about it in our ‘Half a million conversations through a pandemic’ report.
7. More than a third of our texters identified as LGBTQ+
1 in 3 texters who reached out to us for support identified as LGBTQ+ and around 50% of those aged under 13 who texted Shout identified as LGBTQ+.
During the first UK lockdown, we took an additional 4,500 conversations with LGBTQ+ texters, many of whom felt ‘trapped in the Covid closet’ at home.
LGBTQ+ texters are also 40% more likely to talk to us about self-harm.
8. We know we have work to do to reach more texters from diverse backgrounds
We know that Black people are underrepresented in the current population of our texters, with 1.4% of our texter survey respondents identifying as Black, versus 3% of the UK population. With the pandemic more likely to affect Black communities, we know the long-term impact this will have on mental health. As a free, confidential service we would like to be able to reach and support a more diverse audience.
Among other work we are doing to put diversity at the heart of our organisation, we are embarking on a pilot project where we will work with local London community groups to understand the barriers young Black men have to using Shout.
9. We love seeing texter feedback
In fact, we share texter feedback regularly amongst our staff, volunteer community and on our social media channels. It acts as an important reminder of the people we are there to help every day and also helps us identify what we can continue doing or do better.
Here’s an example of some powerful feedback we’ve received from a texter:
10. News announcements lead to more people texting us
Announcements about the pandemic have led to some of our busiest periods on the platform.
In fact, our busiest 24-hours on the platform was 21st December 2020 when we took 5,174 conversations, compared with 1,028 during the equivalent time period before the announcement, a fivefold increase.
Following the announcement of the third national lockdown on 4th January 2021, we saw an immediate increase in people contacting us, leading to 2,017 conversations that day and 2,726 conversations on 5th January, up from around 1,400 daily conversations in the days beforehand.
11. We’re busiest at night
We can all relate to that feeling of lying in bed at night, thoughts swirling around and feeling unable to switch off. It’s more common than you think. Every night of the week, we see conversation volumes start to rise from 8pm and continue into the small hours.
During the first lockdown, we saw that people became likely to text us slightly later in the night, perhaps because of the lack of routine and subsequent difficulties in sleeping, but also this may be down to people’s usual support networks such as friends or family being asleep, as well as other services being unavailable at this time. We are there to offer support 24/7. The proportion of conversations that mentioned ‘sleep’ increased from around 20% of conversations before the lockdown to almost 25% of conversations in May. A closer qualitative examination of those conversations revealed that in many cases texters were having trouble sleeping because of their distress. Significantly, around 40% of conversations that mentioned sleep also mentioned suicide as an issue.
12. Loneliness is an issue… and we don’t think anyone should feel alone
Loneliness is a problem. What might usually be associated with older people is actually very common amongst our younger texters too. Against a backdrop of social media FOMO (fear of missing out) and the Covid-19 pandemic, 68,000 conversations have taken place where texters have contacted us about feeling lonely or isolated. Nearly a third of these have been with people between the age of 18 and 24.
With loneliness comes other issues too; texters who contact us about loneliness are also more likely to discuss feelings of depression and sadness, or to talk to us about relationships.
For anyone feeling lonely or isolated, please know you are not alone. Read our blog on tips to cope with loneliness.
13. For the first time ever, mental health organisations came together to provide vital Frontline support - and we were part of it
When the pandemic hit last year, we knew the mental health impact this would have on the nation’s key workers. Our Frontline is a partnership between Shout 85258, Samaritans, Hospice UK and Mind, supported by The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. It offers round-the-clock one-to-one support, by call or text, from trained volunteers, plus resources, tips and ideas to look after your mental health.
Health and social care workers needing support can text FRONTLINE to 85258 for free, confidential, anonymous support, any time, day or night.
14. The majority of our texters have been under the age of 25
20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year. At Shout, the majority of our texters (65%) are under the age of 25. The issues they text us about are suicidal thoughts (35%), anxiety and stress (around 34%), depression and sadness (32%), relationships (25%), self-harm (around 19%), and loneliness and isolation (around 17%).
Quite striking in our analyses was the fact that texters aged 13 and under were most likely to talk to us about self-harm (25% of conversations) and bullying (9% of conversations).
Our research shows that school is likely to have an impact on mentions of bullying in texters aged 17 and under. When schools closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic, we saw a 59% reduction in the mentions of bullying, compared to the 50 days preceding the closures.
We’re partnered with charities including The Mix, Young Minds, Winston’s Wish, Diana Awards, Cameron Grant Memorial Fund and Hector’s House among others to provide our service to young people.
15. Sharing the number helps more people know we’re there
If you follow us on social media, you may have noticed that we’re always encouraging people to tell a friend about us. That’s because we’re free, confidential, 24/7 and absolutely there for anyone who is struggling to cope and needs ‘in the moment’ support. In our texter feedback survey, we find that many people tell us they’ve seen our number shared on social media. We are so grateful to the many people who share our number, spreading the word helps more than you realise. You can download shareable materials here if you need to.