50808 is a 24/7 text support service. It is an incredible support for people all around Ireland who may be struggling. Whether it’s an ongoing struggle or you’ve just had a low day, there are volunteers and supervisors who work around the clock to ensure people are feeling heard and that they’re not alone. When I first heard about 50808, I got really excited. I feel like there’s a real lack of resources when it comes to mental health support in Ireland so when I heard that this would be available and that I could be a part of it, I was so happy.
Application and training
The application process is easy to do. Apart from the standard personal details it also asks questions about your personality and your availability. This ensures that, as a volunteer, you would be comfortable with issues that may be brought up by a texter and that you would communicate with empathy. You are also asked if you’d be willing to take night shifts. Night time is the most popular time for texters (8pm-6am). However, it’s only necessary that you take one night shift a month if night shifts can’t regularly fit into your schedule.
If you’re accepted as a 50808 volunteer, you will soon start the training course. You will also be sent a form in the mail to begin your garda vetting process. All volunteers need to be vetted before booking your first volunteer shift. The course is six weeks long and takes around 30 hours. It’s completely free. The training is all done over your laptop, so you don’t need to commute anywhere. I started my training last July. The training is all very relevant for when you’re on the platform volunteering and you are supported the whole way through.
In seven modules you learn about the different stages of a conversation – building rapport, exploring, identifying the texter’s goal, collaborative problem solving and ending the conversation. You will also learn about different issues such as depression & mental health issues, suicide, self-harm, substance use, abuse & mandatory reporting and loneliness & helplessness. This is done through videos, quizzes and tests, role plays and multiple choice questions. It’s really fascinating and informative. If you pass the training you will be asked to commit to volunteering for at least 200 hours on the 50808 platform.
On the Platform
They advise you to volunteer for a minimum of four hours a week, but no more than 12. It’s not recommended to do more than that because it’s important that you look after yourself and have time for self-care. Scheduling shifts is easy and flexible. You can log onto your account and select the hours you want to do at the end of each week. You can do different hours every week to work around your own schedule. Some weeks I’ve done 12 hours and other weeks I’ve done four hours, it’s up to you. The best part is that you can volunteer from anywhere as long as you have a good wifi connection. Most of the time I’m at home in my pajamas.
When you log onto the platform the first thing you do is check in with your supervisor to let them know you’re there and you’re happy to be on the shift. Then you can click the ‘Help Another Texter’ button to get into the queue for texters. Some shifts you may not even have a conversation but in others you could have five or more. I was quite nervous on my first one, I started talking to a texter who was feeling suicidal and then my wifi went down. However, when this happens, the conversation gets immediately transferred to another volunteer so you don’t need to worry at all. There’s also ongoing support from your supervisors who are there to support you through conversations and answer any of your questions. There’s a huge sense of teamwork on the platform. Everyone is there to help and encourage you.
Being honest, I don’t feel overwhelmed or anxious while on the platform. Recently I held three conversations at the same time, one being a serious conversation where we had to send an ambulance to someone’s house. While it did require more attention I found it easy to stay calm. It’s normal to feel nervous for your first few conversations but the amount of guidance and support you get completely outweighs those feelings. You also have access to an online toolbox, sample messages and a list of support services in case you need more information. You are also assigned a Coach who is there to support you on and off the platform, and throughout your volunteer journey.