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The HSE Launches New Text-Based Mental Health Service

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.

A new text-based mental health service funded by the HSE has launched to provide support to those who need it. 

‘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 or emotional crisis. 

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 (40%), Depression (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

The main reasons people had for texting were that they didn't have anyone else to talk to, wanted to talk to someone impartial, were more comfortable texting than talking, were too embarrassed to talk on the phone or in-person or didn't have access to a therapist. 

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 uses artificial intelligence to analyse the severity of a texter's message and then places those at most imminent risk at the top of the queue.

It also 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.

“Many people – particularly young people - don’t feel comfortable making that call or reaching out for help," Minister for Health Simon Harris said ahead of the launch. 

“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.”

“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," echoed Anne O'Connor, Chief Operations Officer of the HSE.

"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."

If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, there is help available: 

  • Samaritans – 116 123  – [email protected] or [email protected]
  • Pieta House – 1800 247 247 or text HELP to 51444
  • Aware -  1800 80 48 48
  • Childline – 1800 66 66 66 or free text 50101

Main image by @badest.outfits

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