Reaching out for help : calls to a mental health helpline prior to and during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Scerri, Josianne, Sammut, Alexei, Cilia Vincenti, Sarah, Grech, Paulann, Galea, Michael, Scerri, Christian, Calleja Bitar, Daniela and Dimech Sant, Stephania (2021) Reaching out for help : calls to a mental health helpline prior to and during the COVID-19 Pandemic. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(9), p. 4505. ISSN (online) 1660-4601


The COVID-19 pandemic is a major health crisis associated with adverse mental health consequences. This study examined 2908 calls made to a national mental health helpline over a 10 month period, 2 months prior to (Pre-COVID) and 8 months during the pandemic phase, that incorporated the imposition of a partial lockdown, followed by the removal and reintroduction of restrictive measures locally. Data collected included reason/s for call assistance, gender, age and number of daily diagnosed cases and deaths due to COVID-19. In the Pre-COVID phase, calls for assistance were related to information needs and depression. With the imposition of a partial lockdown, coupled with the first local deaths and spikes in number of diagnosed cases, a significant increase in number of calls targeting mental health, medication management and physical and financial issues were identified. Following the removal of local restrictions, the number of calls decreased significantly; however, with the subsequent reintroduction of restrictions, coupled with the rise in cases and deaths, assistance requested significantly targeted informational needs. Hence, whilst calls in the initial phase of the pandemic mainly targeted mental health issues, over time this shifted towards information seeking requests, even within a context where the number of deaths and cases had significantly risen.

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