For over a year volunteers and staff that operate helplines for charitable organisations have been hearing from people who are struggling during the pandemic.
“A lot of the issues that people would ring with, would stem from loneliness,” according to Michael McDaid, who works as a volunteer with Alone’s support line.
The charity, which provides support for older people, launched its National Support Line in February 2020 – a month before Covid-19 restrictions saw life in Ireland grind to a halt. Since then Alone has received nearly 49,000 calls.
Staff and volunteers at the organisation also make calls to people offering services such as support and befriending phone calls, check-in calls and return calls. Since 9 March 2020 up until and including the first quarter of this year, the charity made 177,140 calls offering these services.
Michael said that when heavy restrictions first came into effect at the start of the pandemic, many of the calls that Alone received were of panic and confusion.
There was a determination to carry on and live with the restrictions at first, he said. However, as time went on, weariness set in and many people became very isolated, something which had an impact their mental health.
“Some people have little or no family background – maybe a family connection. They had, maybe, one or
two people coming in from different agencies and then they weren’t coming any longer.
“All of a sudden, people were just basically on their own. A lot of calls to the line at that period of time were people who were lonely, and they could see no end to this.”
Michael says that different topics are discussed during calls to the helpline, such as advice on restrictions and vaccinations, as well as financial hardship.
A recent survey commissioned by the Society of St Vincent de Paul says that one in four people are cutting back on food and utilities because of the pandemic.
The society said that the poll, which was carried out by RED C, showed that 43% of the population reported experiencing at least one form of financial strain due to the pandemic.
Michael said: “A lot of people are in their houses a lot longer, and they’re finding it hard to heat their houses. When they pay all their bills and that, it’s either heating or eating.”
‘People were just frantic at the start’
Staff at the National Adult Literacy Agency, a body which aims to improve adult literacy in Ireland, saw an increase in the number of phone calls during the pandemic. In 2019, 2,333 calls were logged by it, and this number rose to 3,228 the following year. In the first quarter of 2021, 864 calls were recorded.
NALA said that the duration of phone calls has also increased, with isolation again being one of the main reasons behind people picking up the phone.
Jennifer Dowling, who looks after the freephone service at NALA, says that people contacted the helpline to learn how to adapt to the transition online at the start of the pandemic.
“People were just frantic at the start, because they just didn’t know how to use technology,” she said. “They were afraid to use technology.”
Among those who contacted NALA were students and parents who were struggling with home schooling and using technology for it.
Jennifer said that the agency also heard from parents who had their own literacy difficulties.
“They were struggling themselves because their children were going to them looking for support, and they weren’t able to give it. Some people were practically nearly crying over the phone,” she said.
Some of the parents who contacted NALA are now working with the distant learning tutors, which Jennifer says is “fantastic”.
Following the initial period of the pandemic, Jennifer said that people became more reflective and contacted NALA to discuss available options to improve either their literacy, numeracy or technology skills.
“As the weeks went on, you could see a difference in the callers, and they were thinking more reflectively on their life. And they had this chance and they have this opportunity… and they wanted to improve in their life,” she said.
Sense of feeling ‘frozen’ for young people
Jigsaw, the National Centre for Youth Mental Health, expanded its services during the pandemic – offering support via freephone and online.
Its freephone service, for people aged between 12 to 25 – or those who may be concerned for people in that age category – launched last June. Since then it has recorded over 1,200 contacts. Between in meetings in person, phone and video calls, the agency has had over 23,000 appointments during the pandemic.
Jeanne Forde, who works as Acting Regional Clinical Manager with Jigsaw, said that while young people are contacting the organisation about common concerns, there is a sense of feeling frozen and missing out on important events in their lives because of the pandemic.
“Particularly, for example, college students starting their first year in college. They kind of have a sense that they’re not getting the college experience and maybe difficulty in making friends in an online environment,” she said.
However, Jeanne said that there is a lot of optimism among young people that things are going to improve. She said that staff at the organisation describe young people who contact Jigsaw as very inspiring and brave.
“We recognise this is a really difficult situation that everybody is going through. It’s particularly difficult, I think, for young people – they’re missing out on a lot.
“But they are really courageous, they are reaching out for support. They’re very open to try and find ideas to improve their situation.
“They’re using whatever resources they have to hand internally and externally to improve how they’re feeling, and to make the most of where things are at now.”
Helplines contact:
Alone – 0818 222 024/
Jigsaw – 1800 544 729/
National Adult Literacy Agency – 1800 20 20 65/
For further helplines, visit

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