By Sharon Atieno

Cessation of movements, lockdowns, social distancing and other containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus have leftpeople feeling anxious, distressed and worried. However, technology has stepped in to offer solution to this state of affairs.

One of the recommendations given by World Health Organization (WHO) to cope with stress during this COVID-19 outbreak is talking to people who one can trust.

An application called HearMe, which was developed to break the barriers of loneliness, is changing the lives of its users by offering free peer-to-peer emotional support which is much needed during this period.

The text-based app allows anyone to instantly connect with an empathetic listener, usually a trained volunteer, who understands what members may be experiencing and offer their support.

The user is connected to a listener based on age, gender and what they want to talk about ranging from work, school, relationships, identity and COVID-19 among others. The connection takes place in less than two minutes and the listeners are available 24 hours a day.

According to Adam Lippin, founder of HearMe, the listener is trained to understand the importance of being present and active listening. They show compassion and give space for the user to express themselves.

He notes that during this period, the app has seen an increase in new users as people turn to technology to bridge the gap of loneliness and anxiety created by the pandemic.

The app which is less than a year old, has registered a growth of around 88.3% in members for 2020 and now has about 14,000 users across 65 countries including Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan and Ethiopia among others.

Lippin says that the primary users of the app are mostly young people of 18-35 years as they suffer more from loneliness and anxiety compared to older age groups and being that it is text based, it appeals more to them as opposed to older people.

It is not only the number of users that has gone up during this period, but also the listeners, being that the position is voluntary. The company now has around 3,000 trained listeners.

Fafolahan Oluwanifemi, 18 years old, has been a listener for three months. She says that in a day she gets an average of seven chats which go for 20 to 30 minutes if the topic is not so sensitive. However, if she is handling a sensitive topic, the conversation can take more than an hour.

According to internal statistics by the company, 94% of users who tap into the HearMe app feel better after one chat.

This is evidenced by a user named Harry, an entrepreneur who says in his testimonial: “It feels so good to have someone focus their full attention on me, even for just 15 minutes. I didn’t think this would really make a difference, but after I texted with a listener, I felt refreshed and ready to face the day anew.”

Maria, a teacher notes that it is the first app that she has used that really helps.

“It has helped me dig into my mind and find what I am truly experiencing. My thoughts are more clear and positive,” she comments.

Lippin, who apart from being a founder is also a listener and a member, notes that the positive reviews and emails about the app, have motivated him to want to scale up and reach more people.

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