Crisis Helpline Sees Surge in Messages From Young People Anxious Over Coronavirus

Volunteers at the Crisis Text Line have seen a surge in the number of messages from young people seeking support in recent days, with one in five texters expressing anxiety about the coronavirus outbreak.

"We have seen a very substantial increase in texts from people," Ashley Womble, head of communications for Crisis Text Line, told Newsweek on Wednesday. "Last week, we were experiencing about double volume than we typically have," she said.

Typically, Womble said, volunteers with the helpline have about 3,000 text conversations with people seeking support for a number of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. The majority of people who use the helpline, she said, are in school, including middle school, high school and college.

In recent days, the number of texters has swelled, with Crisis Help Line volunteers having as many as 4,000 to 6,500 conversations each day. Last week, Womble said, the numbers were higher. However, she said, this week, they are still at "increased volume."

"Right now, anxiety is far and away the number one issue that people are texting about," Womble said. "And in one in five conversations, texters have directly mentioned the virus."

That amount surged, however, when the Crisis Help Line recently started asking texters whether they were dealing with issues related to the coronavirus outbreak in exit questionnaires following conversations.

Asked whether they had been suffering from anxiety related to COVID-19, around 77 percent of texters said they were anxious about the pandemic.

Womble said Crisis Text Line had also noticed a rise in the number of messages coming from people who identified as Asian, as well as from those who identified as members of the LGBTQ community.

A visitor tries an Apple iPhone 7 on the first day of sales of the new phone at the Berlin Apple store on September 16, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. Crisis Text Line says it has seen a rise in the number of people seeking mental health assistance in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Sean Gallup/Getty

The organization also saw more texts from people living in low-income areas, she said.

Womble said Crisis Text Line was also seeing texts from a broader age range, with more people over the age of 25 seeking assistance.

Sandro Galea, a physician and epidemiologist who serves as dean and Robert A. Knox Professor at Boston University School of Public Health, told Newsweek on Wednesday he anticipated there would be a rise in mental health concerns connected to the coronavirus outbreak.

"I did some work around [the impacts of] quarantine after SARS, for example, and the studies are pretty clear that you can expect a large scale of mental health consequences," Galea, whose research has focused on the social causes of mental health issues, said.

Not only are people likely to have anxieties around catching and spreading COVID-19, he said, but many in the U.S. and abroad are also likely to struggle with the impacts of self-isolation and lockdowns that are being enforced around the world.

While the measures might be necessary, Galea, warned: "I think we need to be prepared for a surge in mental illness."

In addition to more people seeking help from the Crisis Text Line, Womble said the organization was also seeing a significant surge in applications from people wanting to volunteer their time to helping others.

Usually, the organization sees dozens of applications a day, but, in recent days, Womble said, Crisis Text Line has received "hundreds and hundreds" of applications a day.

With the helpline's training being facilitated remotely, the communications chief said Crisis was in a unique position to give people who are self-isolating amid the coronavirus outbreak a way to help others in need of support during the pandemic.

Womble said Crisis is welcoming the surge of interest in volunteering with the organization.

She also said she hoped people of all ages and walks of life in the U.S. know that the helpline is available to them.

"There is no minimum amount of pain that you need to be in, in order to reach out for support," she said. "And I think that applies now more than ever."

For free 24/7 support from the Crisis Text Line, you can text HOME to 741741.

Crisis Helpline Sees Surge in Messages From Young People Anxious Over Coronavirus | U.S.