Artificial Intelligence deployed to help save Irish lives

A new, free and 24/7 text service launched today, 50808, to aid anyone who may be suffering from mental health or experiencing an emotional crisis. The HSE backed service represents the first of its kind in Ireland.

Since first launching its pilot in September last year, 50808 has provided support to 3,801 people through 6,694 conversations. The service expects to be able to help over 50,000 users once in full operation.

Ian Power, CEO of 5080, said, “We now have over 300 trained Crisis Volunteers providing free, anonymous support to people who are struggling with any issue, big or small,”

So how does it work? And does it work? 

The service uses modern artificial intelligence technology (AI) to screen initial messages sent to 50808. Analysing keywords, phrases and emoji to determine the level of severity within each user’s text. Embracing this smart technology, AI can place texters in a virtual queue depending on the level of immediacy needed from the service. Allowing volunteers to assist individuals who need imminent help first.

Mr Power said:

 “We’re also using technology to ensure we’re getting to the texters who need us most, first and using data to understand our texter’s needs and improve the service. We’re excited to make the 50808-number famous, so people who need us, know we’re here to listen.” 

Each of the 300 volunteers has completed over 30-hours of crisis training and receives 24/7 supervision provided by full-time mental health professionals.

The Minister for Health Simon Harris said, “Many people, particularly young people, don’t feel comfortable making that call or reaching out for help. This is a service that will offer a lifeline to people of all ages. 50808 is free, anonymous and inclusive.”

Of the 4,000 cases the service has already dealt with, here are the facts:

  • 832 people were thinking about suicide.
  • 360 people were self-harming.
  • The prime issues discussed were: Anxiety/stress (40%), Depression/sadness (32%), Relationships (29%) , Isolation/loneliness (23%) and Suicide (18%)
  • 80% of texters have been between the ages of 16 and 34.
  • 65% of texters were female, 24% male, 2% transgender and 2% non-binary
  • 30% of texters identified as LGBTI+.
  • 35% of texters are living with a disability, an existing mental health condition, or other medical condition.

Reasons for texting in included:

  • Didn’t have anyone else to talk to (50%),
  • Wanted to talk to someone who didn’t know me (48%),
  • More comfortable texting than talking (40%),
  • Too embarrassed to talk on the phone or in-person (31%),
  • Didn’t have access to a therapist (31%)

Our Minister for Health acknowledged the service for its relevance at a time were many may be struggling:

“It’s been an exceptionally difficult time for our country, and this service is needed more than ever. I have no doubt the launch of 50808 will save lives.”

So maybe modern technology isn’t all that bad. Maybe we can utilise it to our advantage and save some lives. Unrale job done by this group of unreal volunteers!😇