Supporting half a million mental health conversations through the COVID-19 pandemic

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Clare Kelly
by Clare Kelly
4 March 2021
Virgin Unite is a proud supporter of Shout – the free, confidential, 24/7 text messaging support service for anyone who is struggling to cope.

The challenges the coronavirus pandemic has brought to millions cannot be overstated, as rates of anxiety, stress, and grief have skyrocketed.

Long periods of lockdown have left many people desperately isolated, cut off from friends and family, and feeling as though they have nowhere to turn. During this time, Shout has been a critical support service and a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of people in the UK.


Before the virus struck the UK, Shout were seeing around 750 conversations a day, that number rose to an average of 1,400 conversations per day in early 2021. This 85% increase shows how significantly the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on mental health.

The Shout team has supported texters through over 500,000 conversations during the pandemic - their combination of data capabilities, clinical insight and technology have allowed them to safely gain valuable insight into the mental health issues facing texters all over the UK.

The new report shows how text messaging has enabled a new and discreet way for those in need of mental health support to reach out. This early intervention is particularly important both around the clock, when other services and helplines are not available, and in times of lockdown, when face to face support cannot be accessed.


Victoria Hornby, CEO of Mental Health Innovations, said the following about the report and Shout’s life saving work: “When Mental Health Innovations publicly launched Shout 85258 in May 2019, our aim was to bring free digital intervention in the form of text message support to anyone in the UK who is struggling to cope. Since then, we’ve swiftly grown to become an essential 24/7 mental health support service, supporting more than 1,000 people every day. We have a community of more than 2,200 volunteers and staff in the UK and New Zealand. This report is a testament to partnership, collaboration and innovation, and the extraordinary, selfless commitment of thousands of volunteers, to whom we are incredibly grateful.”

A large proportion of people who contacted Shout throughout the last year were reaching out for mental health support for the first time, with 38% having never spoken to anyone else, and 55% feeling they didn’t have anyone else they could talk to. The report also highlighted that the busiest times on the platform have been in response to news events and in conjunction with social media signposts, highlighting an ‘in the moment’ demand for mental health support.

Getty Images | Adolescent Content / Erin Davis
Getty Images | Adolescent Content / Erin Davis

As the UK embarks on its journey out of lockdown, Shout is reminding anyone finding life tough and anyone feeling cut off from their usual support networks and friends that they are not alone, and that help is available.

Virgin Unite is incredibly proud to support Shout and inspired by the impact it has made in the face of this devastating pandemic – acting as a helping hand to those who are struggling, and a vital crutch for those in their darkest moments, including a dedicated helpline for frontline health, care and emergency workers.