We explore how charities that support people’s mental health have used digital to provide life-saving services both before and during the pandemic
Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve not only had to check in with our physical health, but our mental health, too. Lockdown has posed a series of difficult challenges.
Samaritans have had 3% more emotional support contacts about mental health concerns compared to the same time period last year. They’ve answered 10% more calls about loneliness, and calls centred around concerns on finances and family relationships have increased as the pandemic continues.
Conversations surrounding mental health have been rising, so we want to explore how charities are meeting increasing demand during a time where counsellors, therapists, and volunteers cannot be physically present.
The clearest transition for mental health professionals was the shift to video calls. Spanning almost all sectors of work and private life, Zoom and other videoconferencing software became an essential way to stay connected with colleagues and loved ones.
While many were grappling with remote working and new software, Sue Ryder has been working with an online counselling platform they created alongside a digital agency in May 2018 to provide mental health support to the bereaved. By integrating Twilio, which offers programmable voice, SMS, and video, Sue Ryder created a highly-customisable video element to its counselling platform.
Administrative time was also reduced for counsellors with the integration of Timekit. This tool helped to manage the availability of counsellors by automating new appointments, while retaining control over specific ones.
By creating a platform that was informed by service users and counsellors, Sue Ryder were able to iron out the frustrating problems that can arise when working with isolated and ‘off the shelf’ tools such as Zoom.
It’s important to note that while mental health practitioners may not be able to see patients in-person, videoconferencing means that more people can access a particular service as they are not bound to restraints such as location, and costs for sessions are often reduced.
At times, people experiencing difficult emotions may not necessarily feel they need to participate in counselling sessions. Instead, they may want to find informative resources.
The YMCA provided just this with their new Changing Minds website, which has been created to provide a digital version of their Changing Futures teen mental health programme in response to the pandemic.
The website provides a call to action for the user, asking them ‘How do you want to feel?’ and offering a dropdown list with answers such as ’I want to feel less lonely/sad/nervous’. Once selecting the desired feeling, the website takes the user to the most helpful videos that can assist the user in meeting this need.
These videos have been selected and integrated into the website from YouTube, and YMCA plan on integrating further videos from the likes of TikTok and other social media popular to young people.
My Foothold, a charity that supports engineers, released their wellbeing hub at the beginning of April 2021. Users can sign up to gain free access to the hub, which is a readily available resource on all things mental wellbeing.
The hub has been designed by experts and content is clinically validated. The hub caters to the varying time needs of users by providing bitesize sessions, checklists, and advice, as well as longer ‘find out more’ sessions.
The hub even provides COVID-19 support to help individuals cope with common issues such as financial pressures and burnout. While the hub is not a replacement for longer-term counselling, it provides individuals an easy, free, and flexible way of accessing mental health support.
Crisis support lines are vital services that provide callers or texters with almost immediate support. They are not a counselling service, but instead help users move from a hot moment to a cool calm.
Support lines are commonly services where people struggling with their mental health call in to speak to a volunteer. Charities like Samaritans have kept their call centres open during lockdown and have had to put in measures to ensure volunteers are kept safe.
However, charities such as Shout offer free and anonymous texting platforms that don’t require volunteers to leave their homes to provide an important service.
Shout volunteers are directed to their own Okta landing page, where they are able to access training material and the texting platform all in one place. All that volunteers require to train, book shifts, and text service users is a working laptop and smartphone, with reasonable Wi-Fi. Thousands of volunteers can be trained virtually and offer life-saving services from their own homes.
Charities that are here to support our mental health have continued to innovatively provide their life saving services. They have demonstrated their ability to adapt and make the most of digital technology, especially during these challenging times.