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Improving our current services through data insight

We use data to continually monitor and enhance the Shout 85258 service. This includes day-to-day monitoring of activity on the platform to ensure that the service is appropriately staffed, to identify times when volunteers are most needed, and in other ways to support our clinical team in the provision of a high-quality service.

During 2020, we experienced a number of very busy days, when the number of conversations was more than 50% greater than the preceding days (see Half a million conversations through a pandemic: the power of text for providing 24/7 digital mental health support). These busy periods were precipitated by news events, such as the death of a celebrity or the announcement of a national lockdown. By triaging these activity measures with data about where people had heard about the service, we could see clearly that the interaction of an unexpected event combined with social media posts from others about our service immediately drove people to contact us. We also learned that these increases in activity often (but not always) persisted for several days beyond the event itself. These insights have allowed us to better respond to and plan for such events with respect to operational needs such as staffing levels and clear communication with our volunteers communications to ensure we can meet demand and better serve those in distress.

We are also learning more about the people who contact us and their needs. For example, we have consistently seen that more than a third (35%) of texters identify as LGBTQ+ (based on post-conversation survey completion). More recently we identified that people with autism are overrepresented amongst our texters (around 7% compared to 1% of the general population). These types of insights help guide us in developing further content for texters on our website, new resources available for volunteers to offer to texters, and enhanced training and information for volunteers. We also use these insights to help us forge partnerships with other organisations working to reach these and other audiences.

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Using the data to generate mental health insights

A key aim of Mental Health Innovations is to provide novel insights that will contribute to a better understanding of mental health across the UK. We are tackling this challenge internally using a combination of data analytics, data science, and qualitative mixed-methods psychology. Importantly, we are pairing this internal work by developing a number of academic research partnerships.

Some early findings are highlighted in our report Half a million conversations through a pandemic: the power of text for providing 24/7 digital mental health support. Some of the most striking findings concern our youngest texters (13 & under and 14-17 year olds) who are most likely to contact us about self-harm and bullying. It is also notable that 55% of people who contacted us didn't have anyone else to turn to.

We are currently enhancing our data insights capabilities by expanding the Data Insights team, further complementing those approaches with insights from our clinical team of supervisors, building a new data environment, developing new academic partnerships with leading researchers, and seeking out support from the best data scientists in industry. Taken together these developments will greatly enhance our ability to achieve our aim of producing novel mental health insights.