Supportiv has been connecting people to peers who’ve been there, 24/7, ever since 2018. But a lot has changed — for both the entire world, and for users of The Support Network.
Flashback: Summer of 2018
Supportiv was a team of about 20, opening its beta peer support service to the public in June 2018. It was a simpler time, when we could travel anywhere and freely congregate in crowds. We started with a trickle of user traffic, attracting only 400 users our first month. Most chats were one-on-one between an anonymous user and the Supportiv peer support moderator, as the critical mass of concurrent users needed to realize our vision of real-time, topic-matched peer support groups, each led by a highly trained moderator, was still a ways off.
What was everyone struggling with back then?
[Note: We’re taking a one-month data snapshot for comparative purposes —June 2018 vs. June 2020— and using the same AI-driven natural language processing that underpins the proprietary Supportiv user-to-user and user-to-resource matching capabilities to analyze troves of chat transcripts for topic clusters, sentiments, and themes.]
It was the summer of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings and the early outpourings of the #MeToo movement. Supportiv started seeing user patterns around anonymous divulgence of past sexual trauma, and high levels of anxiety around political issues, in addition to typical mental wellbeing issues like depression, anxiety, and sexuality. Worries and conflicts among personal relationships: romantic, family, and friends rounded out the daily life struggle discussions.
Chart 1: Struggle Topic Distribution, June 2018
Time Jump to Present Day: Summer of 2020
Supportiv is now a team of over 300, all collaborating remotely given the state of the world. In June 2020, we served over 70,000 monthly users. (July saw additional record growth).
Most users are experiencing what we first envisioned: Getting matched (in about 30 seconds) into live, human-moderated chats with a small group of peers who all immediately understand each other and relate because our NLP has determined that they’re struggling with the same stuff. Then they receive hyper-personalized resources that auto-surface as hyperlinks in the chat as the conversation evolves. How’d they get matched to other users and resources? They all answered just one single question “What’s your struggle?”(TM) with some short free text. No forms, no profiles, no assessments detracting from the experience in any way.
How has the distribution of topics and struggles evolved in 2020?
Last month, the Kaiser Family Foundation published survey results showing that the rates of anxiety and depression among US adults had tripled during the Covid-19 pandemic. User volume increases reflect the surge in emotional need, and yet Supportiv is not witnessing a disproportionate spike in these particular diagnoses vs. all other struggles. We proudly enable users to freely describe how they’re feeling without a diagnosis or clinical labeling. The volume increase in struggles across all topics has kept the original proportions intact.
What has noticeably spiked are struggles related to loneliness. Knowledge that there is a loneliness epidemic has been around since at least 2018. What’s changed is that in 2020, it’s no longer unusual to talk about being lonely. In adherence with social (physical) distancing, few have meaningfully interacted with friends or acquaintances in months. While conceptually loneliness and isolation are distinct, the average pandemic-grappling person does not distinguish between the two. To many, loneliness just is.
Also showing proportional increases as struggle topics are relationship issues, sexuality issues, and abuse. Thematic chat analysis shows that these themes are the byproducts of living in close quarters and constant contact with immediate households, without normal social outlets.
Chart 2: Struggle Topic Distribution, June 2020
As the pandemic stretches onward indefinitely, frontline workers —in healthcare, crisis support, retail, essential services, etc.—are bearing the heavy burden of trauma-related stress. Increasing numbers are personally touched by the grief of untimely loss of loved ones. The current, and long buried, experiences of racial discrimination scar. Parents are at their wits ends. Uncertainty about the upcoming national/state/local elections further escalates anxiety. The emotional whiplash of simply staying plugged-in to news cycles to be an informed citizen takes an additional toll.
Meanwhile, the images we see on social media remain largely upbeat, projections of the life we wish we were living. The already fragile social (emotional) support system that many people rely upon in day-to-day life continues to erode.
Supportiv had planned to be The Support Network go-to in “normal” times, setting out with the mission to repair the social fabric. These abnormal times have exponentially intensified the need, and thus, we accelerate the pace of growth to meet the need with open arms.