Mental health hotline calls rose, changed during COVID-19 surges

Published: Thursday, November 18, 2021 - 7:44am
Updated: Thursday, November 18, 2021 - 10:42am
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The coronavirus pandemic has piled on new stressors even as safeguards like social distancing have removed customary supports.

Research in the journal Nature suggest mental help hotlines can provide much-needed help and offer a societal barometer for unseen, psychological pressure changes.

Anonymous data from 8 million calls in the U.S., Europe, China, Hong Kong, Israel and Lebanon shows calls peaked six weeks after the first COVID-19 outbreak, beating pre-pandemic volume by 35%.

Those calls mainly related to fears of infection and feelings of loneliness due to stay-at-home orders.

Calls driven by relationship issues, economic problems, violence and suicidal ideation dropped off, which authors say could mean pandemic issues supplanted, rather than worsened, existing anxieties.

Suicide-related calls rose under tighter containment policies and fell when income support was extended.

The pattern recurred in later waves.

Public health officials often struggle to track mental health during fast-moving events like those surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Data sources like mental health surveys and suicide statistics tend to be patchy and to lag well behind evolving circumstances.

The authors suggest data from mental help hotlines might help fill in some of those gaps.

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