An analysis of caller behaviour to a Crisis Helpline before and during the COVID-19 pandemic

Robin Turkington, Maurice Mulvenna, RR Bond, Edel Ennis, Courtney Potts, Ciaran Moore, Louise Hamra, Jacqui Morrissey, Mette Isaksen, Elizabeth Scowcroft, Siobhan O'Neill

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


The World Health Organisation declared an outbreak of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to be an international pandemic in March 2020. While new confirmed cases of the disease and death tolls rise at an alarming rate on a daily basis, there is concern that the pandemic and counteracting measures could cause an increase in distress amongst the public. Hence, there could be an increase in need for emotional support within the population, which is complicated further by the reduction of existing face-to-face mental health services as a result of measures taken to limit the spread of the virus. The objective was to determine whether the COVID-19 pandemic has had any influence in calls made to Samaritans Ireland. This study presents an analysis of calls made to Samaritans Ireland (a national crisis helpline within the Republic of Ireland) in a four-week period before the first confirmed case of COVID-19 and calls made to the service within a four-week period after a restrictive lockdown was imposed by the Republic of Ireland government. Statistical analysis was conducted to explore any differences in duration of calls between both periods at a global level and at an hourly level. K-means clustering was performed to determine the types of callers that avail of the helpline based on their helpline call usage behaviour and to assess the impact of the pandemic on caller type usage patterns. The analysis revealed that calls were of a longer duration in the post-lockdown period, in comparison with pre-COVID period. There were changes in the behaviour of individuals in the cluster types defined by caller behaviour, where some caller types tended towards making longer calls with the service in the post-lockdown period. There were also changes in caller behaviour patterns with regards to the time of day of the call, with variations in the duration of calls at particular times of day, where average call durations increased in the early hours of the morning. The results from this study highlight the impact of COVID-19 on a national crisis helpline service. Statistical differences were observed in caller behaviour between the pre- and active lockdown periods. The findings suggest that service users may perhaps have relied on crisis helpline services more during the lockdown period due to an increased sense of isolation, worsening of underlying mental illness due to the pandemic and reduced or overall removal of access to other support resources.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 5 Oct 2020
Event27th British Isles Workshop on Research on Suicide and Self-Harm and Lancet Psychiatry Suicide Symposium: Studies Related to the COVID-19 pandemic - University of Oxford Centre for Suicide Research, Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 5 Oct 20206 Oct 2020 (Link to conference website)


Conference27th British Isles Workshop on Research on Suicide and Self-Harm and Lancet Psychiatry Suicide Symposium
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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