Daily Suffering: Helpline Calls during the Covid-19 Crisis

We use helpline calls to measure psychological and social suffering in the population at a daily frequency. Our data are from Switzerland’s most popular free anonymous helpline, focusing on the Covid-19 crisis period. We compare calls (a) between the pandemic period of 2020 and the corresponding period of 2019 and (b) along the timeline of the lockdown. We find the total volume of calls to have grown in line with the long-run trend. To the extent that calls did increase, this was mainly explained by worries linked directly to the pandemic: calls by persons over 65 and calls about fear of infection. Encouragingly, calls about violence were down on the previous year. Calls about addiction and suicidality increased during the initial phase of the lockdown, plateaued, and returned to their 2019 levels once gradual opening started. Calls about relationship problems decreased in the early phase of the lockdown, and gradually increased, again reaching 2019 levels once opening up started. Overall, these results suggest that psychological and social strain is of second-order importance relative to the medical anxieties generated by the pandemic.

with Rafael Lalive. See manuscript