Live-saving, innovative 24/7 text service launches in Ireland

A new text based mental health service funded by the HSE launches today. ‘50808’ is a first of its kind for Ireland, a free 24/7 text service, providing everything from a calming chat to immediate support for people going through a mental health or emotional crisis.

Doireann Garrihy launches the service via a Zoom event with Simon Harris TD, Minister for Health, Jim Daly, Minister for Mental Health and Anne O’Connor, Chief Operations Officer HSE.

Since the service began its pilot in September last year, it has provided support to 3,801 people through 6,694 conversations. It is expected that ‘50808’ will support over 50,000 people each year once fully operational.

Of the almost four thousand people supported:

  • 832 people were thinking about suicide
  • 360 people were self-harming
  • The top issues discussed were: Anxiety/stress (40%), Depression/sadness (32%), Relationships (29%), Isolation/loneliness (23%) and Suicide (18%)
  • 80% of texters have been between the ages of 16 and 34
  • 65% of texters were female, 24% male, 2% transgender and 2% non-binary
  • 30% of texters identified as LGBTI+
  • 35% of texters are living with a disability, an existing mental health condition, or other medical condition
  • Reasons for texting: Didn’t have anyone else to talk to (50%), Wanted to talk to someone who didn’t know me (48%), More comfortable texting than talking (40%), Too embarrassed to talk on the phone or in person (31%), Didn’t have access to a therapist (31%)

The service uses an artificial intelligence (AI) system to analyse a texter’s initial message, scanning keywords, phrases, and even emojis to determine the level of severity. The texter’s at most imminent risk are placed at the top of the queue.

50808 has performed over 100 ‘Active Rescues’ since beginning in pilot phase in September 2019 in which the National Ambulance Service is contacted for a texter in need of emergency support.

The service allows trained Crisis Volunteers to volunteer from home. Crisis Volunteers complete a 30-hour training and have 24/7 supervision by full-time mental health professionals.

Alex’s story

Alex from Cork, a 23-year-old trained volunteer for 50808, believes that some young men find it difficult to talk about their problems because of a certain culture that exists, especially in schools.

“In school, it was the case that if anyone did anything that wasn’t the norm, they were risking ridicule, exclusion or abuse. A lot of guys are afraid of opening up or standing out in case they’re judged and they often stay under the radar as a result.”

Alex Deane from Cork, who is a Crisis Text Line volunteer. (Picture: Killian Broderick)

Since leaving school, however, Alex has noticed that this culture is changing and many more people are willing to talk about their problems these days, especially young men. 

“I’m lucky enough that I can go to my friends when I’m feeling down to have a chat and I believe these conversations are definitely happening more among men than they did a few years ago. People are realising that we all need support and we’re learning to back each other up.”

Alex graduated from UCC last year and is now working as a trainee accountant. He volunteers for 50808 for a few hours every week and advises anyone to look for help if they need it.

“If you need someone to talk to, try and find support that you can trust, be it a family member, a friend or service like 50808. We’re here to listen and support you, no matter what your problem is.”

Since joining the organisation, Alex has learned many new skills and has especially come to understand the value of active listening.

“When you’re going through a tough time, it can be difficult to take a step back and consider your situation. One of the skills I picked up at 50808 that I now use in my everyday life is simply giving people the opportunity to speak while being comfortable in the silence. Listening to someone and allowing them to talk through their feelings without immediately jumping in with your own thoughts is such an important skill to have.”

“You hear perspectives from all over the country – people living in the sticks, in the city, in the town in between and the different challenges they’re facing. You also meet other great trained volunteers on the platform and it’s just been such an incredible experience.”

‘A lifeline to people of all ages’

Simon Harris TD, Minister for Health, said: “Many people – particularly young people – don’t feel comfortable making that call or reaching out for help.

“This is a service that will offer a lifeline to people of all ages. 50808 is free, anonymous and inclusive. It’s been an exceptionally difficult time for our country, and this service is needed more than ever. I have no doubt the launch of 50808 will save lives.”

Jim Daly TD, Minister for Mental Health and Older People, said: “50808 has been in development for some time, and it couldn’t launch at a more important moment. The service’s trained Crisis Volunteers will help people through this current crisis and will continue to provide free, 24/7 support in the long term.

“This life-saving service is part of the government’s strategy to protect the mental health of all members of the public.” 

Anne O’Connor, Chief Operations Officer, HSE, said: “The impact of this pandemic will be different for all of us and while not everyone will need mental health support, for those that do it’s important to have a variety of services that meet those needs.

“Picking up the phone and asking for help can appear daunting, but texting 50808 will connect you to a trained listening Crisis Volunteer. Parallel to this important service, the HSE, through our Psychosocial Response Project, is aligning the different levels of supports that are available online, by phone and text to improve accessibility to mental health resources for those who might be struggling at this time.”

Ian Power, CEO of 50808, said: “We now have over 300 trained Crisis Volunteers providing free, anonymous support to people who are struggling with any issue, big or small.

“We’re also using technology to ensure we’re getting to the texters who need us most, first, and using data to understand our texter’s needs and improve the service. We’re excited to make the 50808 number famous so people who need us, know we’re here to listen.

Ian Power, Crisis Text Line CEO. (Picture: Killian Broderick)