The almost-sudden introduction of Covid-19 and lockdowns all over the world have left us all either stressed, anxious, worried or lonely.
And without the freedom of movement coupled with a call for social distancing in fear of spreading the coronavirus at a more alarming rate than we are already seeing, people have no other choice than to turn to technology such as the HearMe app for some sort of outlet.
Founded in 2018, HearMe is a mobile app that offers support to people experiencing coronavirus-related anxiety as well as anxiety, stress and loneliness caused by other reasons.
According to app founder Adam Lippin, more and more people are turning to technology to bridge this gap caused by social distancing in order to reach out to others as a way to feel less alone.
“Since the coronavirus outbreak began, the app has seen an increase in new users signing up to find relief during this time.”
This problem is so bad that alternatives such as the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) have seen an uptick in calls to their hotline since the start of lockdown.
After having surveyed their audience, Sadag found that while 92% of respondents supported the lockdown, 65% of them felt stressed or very stressed during this period.
Respondents listed issues such as anxiety and panic, financial stress and pressure, depression, poor family relations, feelings of suicide and struggles with substance abuse as some of their primary stress factors.
These stress factors are among the chat topics listed on the HearMe app that users can select when reaching out.
HearMe offers peer-to-peer emotional support through its network of trained volunteers called “listeners” who are located all over the world.
“The app allows anyone to instantly text with an empathetic listener.”
“Listeners” are what they call the app’s trained volunteers who attend to users in need.
Those who volunteer for this position are thoroughly vetted and trained by HearMe once they express an interest in becoming listeners.
Lippin explained that they have to go through specialised training to learn effective strategies commonly used in counselling, doctor-patient relationships and crisis interventions before they are approved to interact with users.
“These are real people who want to help. Never bots.”
“We believe anyone can be present for another, so listeners are everyday people from all walks of life. They’ve been where you are and understand the power of listening and being heard.”
While the app offers people a chance to be heard, its founder cautions that it is not a substitute for therapy nor does it offer its users any kind of counselling.
Because being there for others can occasionally take its toll, volunteers are further supported by the HearMe team who keep in contact with them at all times through apps such as Slack and a private Facebook group that allow them to engage with other listeners.
Lippin confirmed that the app is amassing more than 100 people signing up to be listeners per week and although their user base in South Africa is not yet that large, locals who wish to volunteer as listeners are encouraged to download the app and train to improve their empathetic skill set.
The app is currently functional in about 59 countries and is most popular in the United States and India.
He estimates that the average conversation lasts about 27 minutes according to the app’s data and adds that they are looking to introduce a feature that limits conversation time.
To cater to its users, HearMe has a feature called ‘My Journal’ that enables users to access past sessions from their personal dashboard to chart progress and reflect on what was said.
My experience using the app:
The app’s interface is fairly user friendly with a number of easy sign in or sign up options. It also features a very calming and muted pastel colour palette.
Once set up, the app promises to connect users with a listener in a minute or less for unlimited chats that are 100% confidential.
In my few attempts at using the app, I always experienced a wait of more than five minutes to be connected to a listener.
While no explanation has been provided for this, one can only assume that this is a consequence of the time difference between South Africa and the countries that a majority of the listeners are based in (India, America and the United Kingdom).
My first time trying to use the app was unfortunately quite unsuccessful as I had to wait a while to be connected to a listener who closed the chat quite abruptly upon accepting the request. And by that time I had already moved on to something else.