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Crisis Text Line gets a boost from Mental Health Fund during COVID-19 pandemic


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COVID-19 can be a terrible disease, made more cruel by the way it separates us from loved ones, prohibits us from escaping an unimaginable situation, keeps us from grieving a death properly, and prevents us from finding solace in a simple hug. For many, the mental health toll is profound and will likely last far longer than the pandemic itself.

“The virus itself is awful and causing anxiety and grief, and then the quarantine and financial ruin is causing different intense pain," says Nancy Lublin, CEO and co-founder of Crisis Text Line, which offers free 24/7 counselling, conducted entirely over text messaging.

Crisis Text Line and its affiliates, including Shout UK - the country's first free 24/7 crisis support text service - and SpunOut.ie, collectively saw a 40 percent increase in text volume during March and April. With this dramatic influx, a new, multi-million pound mental health fund aims to help finance these crisis support organisations at a crucial time.

Royal Bank of Canada, Virgin Unite and others have contributed £1.6 million ($2 million) toward the launch of The Mental Health Fund. It's an international initiative in partnership with Crisis Text Line that hopes to raise more than £4 million ($5 million) through a GoFundMe campaign.

“Physical distancing is tough on everyone, but it's particularly challenging for those who are anxious about reaching out for help," says RBC chief executive Dave McKay.

“By supporting The Mental Health Fund, RBC is making sure resources are available for those struggling with the day-to-day challenges of a more isolated world. We encourage everyone to seek the support they need, when they need it."

Anxiety, especially over finances, drives 78 percent of those reaching out, according to data from the crisis text lines. Organisations have also seen a significant increase in conversations about emotional and physical abuse by people locked down with an abusive family member.

Some 10,000 trained volunteer counsellors across Crisis Text Line and its affiliates in the UK, Ireland, USA and Canada are on hand to provide confidential support over text to anyone in crisis, but they hope especially to reach those who have difficulty voicing their pain and those who don't have the resources to access other services.

The counsellors are supervised 24/7 by mental health professionals; most of the fund's expenses go toward these full-time employees who have a master's degree in a relevant field. Organisers have a goal of enlisting 150,000 global volunteers by the end of 2022.

“Mental health support will be needed for years to come, and we all should get behind their mission to ensure everyone can receive quality support 24/7," says Virgin Unite founder, Richard Branson.

A majority of the people reaching out - 68 percent - say they messaged something they'd never shared with another person. For many, these textlines often serve as a gateway toward long-term care. Among those who text for help, 89 percent find the conversations helpful.

"Thank you for listening, and giving me kind words of encouragement and compassion," one text message shared on the GoFundMe site says. “You didn't know it but at the time I was texting you, I'm staying awake because I'm in fear of my abuser. Thank you for giving me hope and options."

Other major founding donors to the fund include Demi Lovato, Canadian Family Foundations and Draper Richards Kaplan.