Crisis Helpline Sees Surge In Messages From Healthcare Workers Worried About Safety Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, volunteers at Crisis Text Line have seen a 40 percent surge in messages over the past three weeks from people across the U.S., Canada and Britain seeking support.

In a press release sent out on Wednesday, Crisis Text Line spokesperson Ashley Womble said 1 in 5 texters who contacted the helpline during that period expressed anxiety about the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic has so far affected more than 1.48 million people worldwide, with over 88,500 cases resulting in death, and over 331,000 recoveries, according to Johns Hopkins University.

While the helpline typically assists people of younger ages, including middle school, high school and college students, Womble said Crisis has also experienced a surge in messages from healthcare workers struggling with the stress of being at the frontlines of combating the pandemic.

According to Womble, messages from healthcare and other essential workers increased fourfold over the last month, with many conversations explicitly mentioning "the stress of being a frontline or essential worker."

An analysis of confidential conversations, Womble said, found that the words "precaution," "gloves," "risk," and "careful" were among the top 20 "unique words" used in the conversations.

Due to growing demand for support from healthcare and other essential workers, Crisis has launched a separate helpline specifically for healthcare and other essential workers at the website ForTheFrontlines.org.

The numbers that frontline workers and the general public can text for support are listed at the bottom of this article.

healthcare worker
A doctor from SOMOS Community Care prepares to test a patient at a drive-thru testing center for COVID-19 at Lehman College on March 28, 2020 in the Bronx, New York City. Frontline workers are increasingly texting the Crisis Text Line for support. John Moore/Getty

Womble said "grief" among the broad range of texters who reach out to Crisis for support appears to be growing in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

"Four percent of our conversations are about grief," the press release stated. When it comes to discussing grief, the words "Grandma" and "Grandpa" came up among the top five words used in these conversations, with many texters concerned for elderly loved ones who are vulnerable to the virus.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of texters said they were experiencing more "intense anxiety and depression" associated with COVID-19.

The chart below shows how anxiety levels from people seeking support from the Crisis Text Line appear to have surged in the wake of the pandemic, with a dramatic rise in people saying they feel "isolated," "anxious" and "depressed or hopeless."

Crisis text line
Dated to April 8, 2020, this chart provides a picture of COVID-19's impact on mental health based on conversations with texters who have contacted the Crisis Text Line over the past three weeks. Crisis Text Line

According to the chart, the percentage of texters describing feelings of nervousness and anxiousness has surged 3.5 times higher than before the COVID-19 outbreak, while the percentages of those expressing feelings of isolation and feelings of depression or hopelessness have nearly tripled.

The text line also saw a clear surge in the percentage of people saying that they are "feeling left out," have "little interest in doing things" and "can't stop worrying."

If you or someone you know need to talk to someone, you can reach Crisis Text Line by texting CRISIS to 741741 to be connected to a trained counselor for free, confidential support 24/7.

Frontline workers can text FRONTLINE for free crisis counseling at the following numbers: USA text 741741, Canada text 741741, UK text 85258, Ireland text 086 1800 280.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.