24/7 mental-health text service 'will save lives’: Harris

A free, anonymous, 24/7 text messaging service enabling people going through a mental health crisis to seek support at any time, day or night, has been hailed by Health Minister Simon Harris as a ‘life-saving’ initiative. Ian Power Crisis Text Line CEO. Pictures: Killian Broderick
24/7 mental-health text service 'will save lives’: Harris

Ian Power, crisis text line CEO. Pictures: Killian Broderick
Ian Power, crisis text line CEO. Pictures: Killian Broderick

A free, anonymous, 24/7 text messaging service enabling people going through a mental health crisis to seek support at any time, day or night, has been hailed by Health Minister Simon Harris as a ‘life-saving’ initiative.

Piloted last year, the 50808 text-based service has been launched nationally and expects to support 50,000 people a year when fully operational.

The pilot initiative supported 3,801 people aged between 16 and 34 years since September last year, with anxiety, stress, depression, relationships, isolation and loneliness, and suicide featuring among the top issues raised in almost 200,000 messages. Demand for the service also increased by 44% during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The service uses an algorithm to scan text messages for keywords and emojis to assess the level of distress and prioritise the response required.

So far, the 50808 service has carried out more than 100 “active rescues” where it contacted the ambulance service to respond to an individual in need of emergency support.

The service will be provided by hundreds of trained volunteers under the supervision of mental health professionals.

CEO of 50808, Ian Power, said the service aimed to respond to high-risk texters within one minute and all texters within five minutes.

“It’s really important that people who need this service and prefer to reach out in this way have a service that’s available 24/7 when everything else is closed,” Mr Power said.

Crisis text line volunteer Roisin King.
Crisis text line volunteer Roisin King.

Minister Harris said the rollout of the service was timely given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the mental health of the nation.

The service, Minister Harris said, would save lives and he commended the “incredible” volunteers behind the service: “You may never know exactly how many lives you’re saving; you may never know exactly how many lives you’ve turned around or put back on track but what we definitely know is that you’re saving lives.”

Outgoing Minister for Mental Health, Jim Daly, said the service would be “ground-breaking” for the country and urged everyone to add 50808 to their phone: “This service has been tried and tested the world over; it’s a global phenomenon. It has had amazing successes in other countries where it has been established and where young people are using text."

Chief Operations Officer of the HSE, Anne O’Connor, said the HSE funded service would improve access to mental health services: "Having a service like 50808 where you can contact somebody and know that, regardless of the time of day, you will get a response is really important and that’s why this initiative is essential now”.

Text 50808 to use the service or visit www.text50808.ie for more information.

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