Covid-19: Calls to mental health hotlines spiked during early lockdowns – Community News
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Covid-19: Calls to mental health hotlines spiked during early lockdowns

Although demand for mental health services increased by 35 percent at the start of the pandemic, the percentage of people seeking help for suicidal thoughts remained the same as it was before the Covid-19 restrictions were introduced.

Health


November 17, 2021

2A3D63T A man on the phone.  The phone is at the man's ear.  Back view

People were quicker to call mental health helplines during the early pandemic

Aleksandr Proshkin/Alamy

Calls to mental health helplines in 19 countries rose by an average of about a third, shortly after the start of the lockdowns introduced during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, before falling to similar levels as before.

During the peak, there was a small increase in the number of calls made by people who felt lonely and by people who feared being infected with the coronavirus, but the nature of people’s concerns remained broadly similar to those of before the pandemic.

Several studies have suggested that more people have felt anxious or depressed since the start of the pandemic. These levels are usually assessed using mental health surveys and suicide statistics, but Marius Brülhart of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland wondered if there was another way to map changes in people’s mental well-being. “We thought, ‘What can we do to measure the mental health of the population?’” says Brülhart.

Most telephone helplines for people with mental health problems keep logs of their calls, including short notes about the reasons people called. Brülhart and his colleagues analyzed anonymous data from 8 million calls to helplines in 19 countries, including the US, China, Israel and several European countries, but not the UK, looking at the period from early 2019 to early 2021.

They found that the number of calls peaked about six weeks after each country’s coronavirus restrictions began, up 35 percent from pre-pandemic – although some helplines initially had insufficient capacity to answer all calls and thus potentially some of the earlier ones. missed an increase.

The number of people calling to talk about suicidal thoughts remained at a similar percentage of total phone calls as it was in 2019 before the pandemic. Other research has found that suicide rates have not increased in most countries since the start of the pandemic.

“We have ample evidence that the early pandemic affected people’s mental health; we have to wonder why this doesn’t seem to have translated into higher suicide rates,” said Louis Appleby of the University of Manchester, UK. “Social cohesion is an opportunity family and neighbors offering support, a general sense of getting through a crisis together.”

The new study also found that calls to helplines increased more in countries where there was less financial support for people unable to work due to the pandemic, as well as in countries with stricter lockdowns or restrictions. The more intense the lockdown measures, the greater the increase in suicidal calls, Brülhart says.

Need a listening ear? British Samaritans: 116123; US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 800 273 8255; hotlines in other countries.

Reference magazine: Nature, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-04099-6

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