Bob’s Notes on COVID-19: Mental Health Data on the Pandemic

Bar graph of texter volume mentioning "virus." In march 2020, we saw volume mentioning "virus" increase by 49X.

Capacity and Quality

While it’s bad news that coronavirus is leading to extreme rates of anxiety, I think it’s good news that people are learning about our service. We’re here to support them and their loved ones 24/7. Our model has always been leveraging volunteers at home, on their couch. While other crisis centers are limiting hours or capacity, or even closing their doors, we’re ready and 100% open for business. In fact, the quality of our conversations is averaging 87% (this is up two points from our historical average!). Even better, quality for conversations mentioning “virus” is 2 points even higher: 89%.


What crisis issues are people who mention “virus” talking about?

  • A whopping 80% of people mentioning “virus” discuss feeling anxious. (Among texters overall, 34% of texters mention feeling anxiety.)
  • The top 5 distinct words texters are using in conversations (last 14 days) show the intensity of their anxiety:
    • news
    • panicking
    • outbreak
    • canceled
    • closing
  • Given the quarantines, we’re keeping an eye on child abuse and domestic violence as people will be in restricted locations with abusers.
  • 10% mention finances, up from 7% of all texters. What texters are saying (paraphrased):
    • “This virus might make my family homeless. My husband’s job might cut hours or close, and I’m disabled. It’s all too much to deal with.”
    • “The virus spread so fast. I just secured a part-time job, but now [my new employer] won’t give me a start date.”


Here’s a chart of where people have been texting us from about “virus” in the last week. Note – this chart is per capita, so we can see where anxiety around coronavirus is highest, controlling for population.

Map of the united states. The states with the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 are white to indicate corresponding higher texter volume.


What texter demographics are texting about coronavirus at higher rates?

  • 3% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (compared to 0.2% of U.S. population)
  • 13% Asian (compared to 5% of U.S. population, and 6% of our texters overall)
  • 18 – 34-year-olds make up over half (52%) of people texting about the virus. One theme: school cancellations and closures are a major source of anxiety.

What are the top words that make texters feel calm, related to coronavirus?

  • Talk about time: week, day, year are all in the top 10 most helpful words. Reflecting the duration of the problem shows empathy and understanding for how long they’ve been impacted. It also grounds the conversation. Examples:
    • Well, that is quite a situation you have there. Having been sick for several weeks, what does the doctor say?
    • A new fear is the scariest kind. Did something in particular happen today to increase your anxiety about the coronavirus?
    • I’m hearing you’re afraid of how coronavirus will impact you and your family. Let’s think of ways for you to get through these next few weeks….
  • Talk about close relationships: family, mom, and parents are all in the top 25 most helpful words.
  • Normalize the anxiety. Feel, anxious, and stress are all in the top 25 most helpful words. The takeaway? Make it clear that they are not alone: Many people are feeling anxious or fearful, and it’s strong to reach out for help.
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