Low-threshold support services such as telephone counselling are in great demand, especially in times of pandemic. The pandemic also poses new challenges for the employees of the telephone counselling service. The survey shows that telephone counsellors nevertheless experienced less stress and a higher sense of well-being during the pandemic than the general population.

In the current study, 374 counselors within the Austria-wide organization TelefonSeelsorge were surveyed during the second wave of COVID-19 in Austria. The counselors were on average 57.65 years old and the average working time at the TelefonSeelsorge was 15.58 hours per month. Psychological well-being and perceived stress levels were surveyed. Compared to a reference group of the Austrian general population, the employees experienced less stress and a higher psychological well-being.

For perceived well-being, an average value of M = 66.26 (SD = 16.64) was measured, which differs significantly from the M = 57.36 (SD = 23.16) determined in the Austrian general population during the second COVID-19 wave (scale: 0 = absence of well-being to 100 = maximum well-being). Counselors' stress levels averaged M = 13.22 (SD = 5.20), significantly lower than the population M = 16.42 (SD = 7.60). The stress level of the employees was assessed with the Perceived Stress Scale-10.

Shifted focus of topics

Overall, the number of helpline calls increased from 153,320 in 2019 to 170,628 in 2020. In addition, the topics of loneliness, mental health, employment, and relationships were addressed more frequently compared to pre-pandemic times. While the opposite was observed for the topics of pregnancy, refugees, and sexuality. No difference was observed for the topics of violence/abuse and information/specialized information. Overall, the topics of loneliness and mental health were indicated as the main topics of callers seeking help.

Volunteer work supports psyche

"These findings contribute to our understanding of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on telephone crisis intervention. Surprisingly, staff members coped better. This could be because people with better mental health are more willing to invest time in volunteer work. In addition, the work positively influences the mental well-being of the employees. Therefore, volunteer work seems to be beneficial not only for society but also for the individuals who do it," explained Ass.-Prof. Priv.-Doz. Dr. Elke Humer, head of the study.

The observational study is being conducted in cooperation with the Association for the Promotion of Telephone Counseling Austria and the Training Institute for Logotherapy and Existential Analysis (ABILE).


Telephone Emergency Services in Times of COVID-19

Funding: Self-financed

Duration: 2020-2021

Department: Psychotherapy and Biopsychosocial Health

Project Lead: Elke Humer

Participating Researchers: Christoph Pieh, Thomas Probst

Coordination: University for Continuing Education Krems

Partners: Viktor Frankl Education Austria (ABILE); Austrian Telephone Emergency Service (Telefonseelsorge)


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