Measuring the COVID-19 pandemic’s societal impact using near real-time crisis helpline telephony data

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

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Abstract

Objective
The objective was to determine whether telephony data could assist in understanding the societal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic using near real-time call information from Samaritans Ireland anonymous call data.

Methods
This study presents an analysis of calls made to Samaritans Ireland in four 4-week periods; one period before the first confirmed case in Ireland (Pre-COVID-19; 3 February - 1 March 2020) and three other periods after the introduction of the lockdown restrictions; a first Active COVID-19 period (30 March - 26 April 2020), a second Active COVID-19 period (1-28 June 2020) and a third Active COVID-19 period (3-30 August 2020). Statistical analysis was conducted to explore any differences in duration of calls across all four periods. Clustering was performed to determine caller types that use the helpline based on their usage patterns and whether this changed across the four periods.

Results
The incidence of calls with longer durations increased dramatically in the first Active COVID-19 period from the Pre-COVID-19 period, reflecting higher levels of support being sought. This trend towards longer calls decreased across the later Active COVID-19 periods towards the norm of the Pre-COVID-19 period. Five caller types were discovered and each showed differences in the time of day in which they made calls and their distribution of call duration across all periods. The most significant differences were noticed between the Pre-COVID-19 period and the first Active COVID-19 period. The behaviours observed in the later Active COVID-19 periods trended towards that of a Pre-COVID-19 norm.

Conclusion
The findings highlight that telephony data can be used to measure the effect of an external event on society; in this case, the impact of COVID-19 on a national crisis helpline service. The results indicate that the introduction of the lockdown restrictions created a societal impact on the population. The trend back to the Pre-COVID-19 norm in call behaviour may indicate hedonic adaptation in society as characterised here amongst callers to the service. The findings indicate the viability of using telephony data to provide near real time insights in behaviours beyond the helpline, across broader society impacted by external events.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 9 Oct 2020
EventNational Suicide Research Foundation Virtual Seminar on Suicide, Self-Harm and Mental Health - Cork, Ireland
Duration: 9 Oct 20209 Oct 2020
https://www.nsrf.ie/virtual-seminar-2020/

Seminar

SeminarNational Suicide Research Foundation Virtual Seminar on Suicide, Self-Harm and Mental Health
CountryIreland
CityCork
Period9/10/209/10/20
Internet address

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