Today at Shout we have released a landmark report delving into the unique insights gleaned from half a million text conversations, many of which have been during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Our first ever report, “Half a million conversations through a pandemic; the power of text for providing 24/7 digital mental health support” combines Shout’s unique dataset with the first hand experiences of our incredible clinicians and volunteers.
Among the key findings from this first 500,000 conversations with 213,262 texters, we’ve found that more than a third of people (38%) who have contacted the service have never asked for help anywhere else, and more than one in two (55%) told us they didn’t feel they had anyone else to talk to.
Other insights revealed how our service is providing a new and discreet way for those in need of mental health support to reach out for help via text. This early intervention is particularly important both around the clock, when other services and helplines are not available, and in times of lockdown, when face to face support can’t always be accessed.
The main reasons people have been contacting Shout are suicidal thoughts (34%), depression/sadness (33%), anxiety/stress (32%), relationships (27%), isolation/loneliness (17%) and self-harm (15%).
Text is particularly resonating with a younger, digitally native demographic as a means of support, with 65% of texters aged 25 and under and 7% aged 13 and under. During the first national lockdown, we saw referrals to CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) double.
While 18-24 year-olds were the group most likely to discuss suicide with us (39% of their conversations), those aged 13 and under were talking to our volunteers about self-harm (24%) and bullying (9%), higher than any other age group.
Older texters have been reaching out for support too, with this age group most likely to talk to us about Covid-19 than other texters. Those that are talking to us about Covid-19 are also twice as likely to have anxiety about it too.
Text is also proving itself to be a key method of communication for other groups in society, particularly for its accessibility reasons. 7% of our texters are autistic, compared with 1% of the UK population, with texter feedback mentioning the ease of text as a way to talk.
One in three texters identify as LGBTQ+, as text offers a discreet, accessible way for many to communicate, particularly during the pandemic when people are stuck at home or in hostile environments where talking on the phone isn’t as easy for them.
The news agenda has played a key role in when people are reaching out for support, with sharp increases in conversation volumes around national news events and lockdown announcements. The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly taken a toll on mental health and this, combined with increased awareness of the Shout service, has led to a huge increase in conversations. Pre-pandemic, the service was taking an average of 750 conversations per day, a figure that rose to 1,400 by early 2021.
Victoria Hornby, CEO of our parent charity Mental Health Innovations said: “When Mental Health Innovations publicly launched Shout 85258 in May 2019, our aim was to bring free digital intervention in the form of text message support to anyone in the UK who is struggling to cope. Since then we’ve swiftly grown to become an essential 24/7 mental health support service, supporting more than 1,000 people every day. We have a community of more than 2,200 volunteers and staff in the UK and New Zealand. This report is a testament to partnership, collaboration and innovation, and the extraordinary, selfless commitment of thousands of volunteers, to whom we are incredibly grateful.”
80% of our texters also identified as female, which is in line with patterns in society reflecting both mental health need and a willingness to seek support among this gender. Women were also twice as likely to mention eating disorders and body image than men and discussed self-harm in nearly 1 in 4 conversations.
While these findings are showing the importance of digital intervention for responding to in the moment mental health needs of people across the UK, we do know that we need to do more to meet the needs of underrepresented groups in society, too.
We are embarking on a number of initiatives to break down the barriers to seeking mental health support among particular communities, starting with young Black men.
To read the report and our recommendations in full, visit www.giveusashout.org/500kreport.