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News : National Health Helpline (203) Launched
Castries, Saint Lucia, July 3, 2015 -- The long awaited National Health Helpline was launched on Monday 29th June at a ceremony held in the conference room of the National Mental Wellness Centre. The helpline short code 203 is a 24 hour service manned by a team of health professionals trained in crisis intervention techniques.
Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Merlene Fredericks stated that the launch of helpline 203 is geared towards assist persons who may be experiencing challenges in addressing the mental, social and emotional aspects of life which are necessary for complete wholesome well being.
"Self harm including suicides is a growing health problem around the world and St. Lucia has not been spared. The majority of cases can be linked to underlined mental health illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia and substance abuse problems such as alcohol abuse and illicit drug abuse."
Dr. Fredericks added that the helpline is designed to provide an avenue for persons who may need to speak to someone and who require support in overcoming a challenging mental or emotional state. Colleagues, relatives and friends she said are encouraged to call 203 if they believe their loved ones need such assistance particularly if they are unable to intervene and assist the one in need.
"A referral system will be linked to the hotline such that persons in need will be matched to specialist trained in counselling, social work or psychiatry on a case by case basis. If a crisis situation arises during a telephone intervention, the emergency medical services will be activated as in any medical emergency. However we urge all to note that the launch of this helpline 203 is not going to replace the role which families and friends, communities and organisations should play in addressing this public health issue of self harm and suicides." Dr. Fredericks stressed.
With an increase in the number of suicides on island the Chief Medical Officer reiterated the need for individuals to display greater concern for their fellow man. She implored members of society to pay greater attention to anyone who reveals they have thought of or wishes to harm themselves to take it seriously and seek help for this individual.
Kimani Pompelis knows all to well the grief experienced by a family when a loved one commits suicide. In 2007 her family plunged into a state of confusion, grief and despair when her brother felt he could no longer cop and took his own life. In endorsing the initiative Ms. Pompelis said "This initiative is a much needed avenue for members of society who have thought of harming themselves."
With society still stigmatizing institutions like the Mental Wellness Centre and the individuals who seek help and care within its walls, Ms. Pompelis believes this helpline will serve as a medium between coming to an institution for care or worried about the challenges one will face after being institutionalized.
The National Health Helpline is another example of Public, Private Sector Partnership (PPP) and was operationalized through a joint effort the Ministry of Health, Wellness, Human Services and Gender Relations and telecommunications providers LIME and Digicel.
Mr. Joseph Augustine, LIME’s representative at launch confirmed LIME’s commitment to the helpline.
"I also wish to congratulate the staff of the St. Lucia Mental Wellness Centre for their profound humane dedication to preventing suicide and supporting those bereaved by it…I am pleased to announce that LIME in partnership with Digicel is providing the Ministry of Health with access to 24 hour toll free helpline to enable people to harbour suicidal thoughts to reach out for emotional health and support."
Digicel’s representative Ms. Louis Victor in pledging Digicel’s support for the helpline said, "The cause is bigger than any telecommunications provider at this point. This is about saving generations to come and for us at Digicel this is very critical given that we have a strong base of young persons and we are seeing an increase in the number of self harm and suicide cases among among young people. So for us is about creating a shift in this generation in that yes you are the users of the handsets, yes you are the users of the technology but how do you use it to save yourself, a friend, a family member."
"This is the day I have been longing for…It’s a moment I have been waiting to exhale for many, many reasons," so said the Minister for Health,Wellness, Human Services and Gender Relations, Hon. Alvina Reynolds as she delivered a very emotional talk as she called it, at the launch of the National Health Helpline 203.
The Health Minister stated that the World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized suicide prevention as a global imperative. " A fist of its kind, this report aims to increase awareness of the public health significance of suicide and suicide attempts to make suicide prevention a higher priority on the global public health agenda and to encourage and support countries to develop or strengthen comprehensive prevention strategies in a multi-sectoral public health approach."
In officially declaring the National Health Helpline opened the Minister for Health issued a challenge to her Ministry and the Country to reduce suicides by ten percent come the year 2020. "We must embrace this challenge through counselling, psychiatry, emergency medical services, priest, pastor, media, civil society organizations, faith based organization across the board it’s one community…So in memory of my cousin Marcus, my students, my good friend Flex, it gives me great pleasure to launch the National Health Helpline 203."
All calls to the National Helpline 203 are toll free from both LIME and Digicel handsets.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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