Health Ministry to Establish Mental Health/Suicide Helpline

Photo: Dave Reid Minister of Health, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton (right), is given a gift by Vice President and Co-Founder of the non-governmental organisation (NGO), Choose Life International (CLI), Faith Thomas (centre), during the CLI World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) Seminar held on Friday (September 14) at the Jamaica Conference Centre, in Kingston. Also pictured holding the book, ‘Controlling Suicide: Helping Teens at Risk’, is President and Founder of CLI, Dr. Donovan Thomas.

A mental health/suicide helpline is to be established by the Ministry of Health, in partnership with the non-governmental organisation (NGO), Choose Life International (CLI), to provide support to persons in need of assistance.

The helpline, 1-888-NEW-LIFE (1-888-639-5433), will be toll-free, providing 24-hour assistance to persons with mental health issues seeking help.

Minister of Health, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton, who provided details at a CLI World Suicide Prevention Day Seminar on Friday (September 14) at the Jamaica Conference Centre in Kingston, said the helpline will ensure that persons have ready access to a support team, particularly persons suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts.

Dr. Tufton said the theme of the seminar, ‘Working Together to Prevent Suicide’, underscores the importance of partnerships in addressing this issue.

“Mental illness is more prevalent than we think. When you take a broad perspective, as we have to do as policymakers, researchers and practitioners who are directly involved in the field, you recognise how big a challenge it is, and it is a challenge that no one entity can confront. It requires a holistic approach, understanding and sensitisation in dealing with it,” the Minister argued.

“The Ministry is committed to playing its role, but partnerships are going to become the order of the day. We are going to strengthen these partnerships and make them work, because that is the best approach to finding solutions,” he added.

Dr. Tufton said the Ministry is engaged in several other initiatives to address the issue of suicide.

The Ministry operates Child Guidance clinics, which offer child and adolescent mental health services, and is looking to conduct assessments to facilitate greater access to these services.

There are 20,000 patients on register in the adult mental health clinics and 3,500 in the child guidance clinics.

Another strategy is the collaboration between the Ministries of Health and Education to train school officials in identifying signs of mental illness among adolescents.

“Often we see some deviant behaviour among our younger-age cohort and the typical interpretation is that this person is wayward. We need to go beyond that and see it as symptoms of greater challenges, so we intend to have collaboration and training between the two Ministries,” he said.

Dr. Tufton said there are plans to work with other stakeholders to establish more Teen Hubs, such as the one situated in the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre, which offer homework help, research facilities, counselling and clinical services as well as mental health support. The centre is manned by Certified Counsellors and Peer Educators.

They will offer psychological services on a weekly basis and possibly provide a basis for referrals for young people who need advice, including advice related to mental illness,” he noted.

Other suicide-prevention strategies of the Ministry are the development of a protocol for the management of adolescent suicidal behaviour in the Accident and Emergency Department, with attendant training in 2015 of 240 healthcare workers; and the development of teaching aids in the form of PowerPoint presentations on suicide prevention in adolescents for clinicians, school personnel and students.

These initiatives came out of the findings of a research conducted in conjunction with United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2013.

According to the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey (JHLS) III (2016/17), depression is one of the main predisposition factors to suicide. The survey suggests that the national estimate of the prevalence of depression was 14.3 per cent, with men at 9.9 per cent and women, 18.5 per cent.

The prevalence of depression was highest among urban women, 19.2 per cent; and lowest among rural men, 7.3 per cent. Jamaicans over 75 years old had the highest prevalence of depression at 20.8 per cent.

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