The National Mental Health Helpline Logs over 40000 Calls With People Experiencing Emotional Distress During COVID-19
Doha, 27 November 2021: Qatar’s National Mental Health Helpline Service has played a major role in providing psychological support for a growing number of people experiencing stress and anxiety during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The National Helpline has logged more than 40000 calls in the 18 months since the service has been in operation. Her Excellency Dr. Hanan Mohamed Al Kuwari, Minister of Public Health visited the helpline call center to commend the team’s efforts and commitment to providing this vital service.
Mr. Mahmoud Al Raisi, Chief of Continuing Care Group at HMC and Chairman of the National Taskforce for Mental Health and Wellbeing said that the National Taskforce fully supported the initiative. “The helpline was established in April 2020 by the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) and Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) with backing from Primary Healthcare Corporation (PHCC), in response to a growing awareness of the emerging psychosocial impact of the pandemic on the population. While our hope is that the pandemic is, largely, behind us, our aim is to continue with the mental health helpline as an important component of our overall mental health and wellbeing service delivery.”
“Mental Health and Wellbeing is a major strategic priority of the National Health Strategy, which aims to improve access, reduce stigma and integrate physical and mental health. The Helpline has been instrumental in achieving this purpose, while also enabling easier access to professional support for those who may have struggled to seek help previously,” added Mr. Al Raisi.
The helpline provides an immediate and confidential access and offers support to people suffering from stress, anxiety or mental disorder. It has become a key access point for people seeking help and advice. A team of Mental Health professionals provide an initial assessment and can offer initial intervention or treatment with a more rapid access to more acute care if needed. The Helpline can provide access to the Virtual Women’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Service and offers convenient and safe medication refill service. Access to the confidential helpline is reached by calling 16000; the mental health helpline is available from 7 am to 3 pm from Saturday to Thursday.
The Mental Health Service recently won an international Health Workers Recognition Award from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office for its work in establishing the Mental Health Helpline. The award recognized the tireless efforts of the service in addressing the mental health and wellbeing of Qatar’s population during the COVID-19 pandemic through the establishment of the Mental Health Helpline.
Dr. Majid Al Abdulla, Chairman of Psychiatry at HMC explained that greater awareness of mental health matters has resulted in many more people from our communities to seek help: “Fear of stigma has often been a barrier to people seeking professional help for mental health problems. The guarantee of anonymity of calls to the helpline has been instrumental in the increase in calls. When the Helpline opened fewer than 10% of call were from men, this has grown to over 30% earlier this year, as more and more men feel able to seek help. Calls are now evenly split between men and women, indicating more acceptance of this service among both genders.”
“While it is natural to experience heightened stress and anxiety during such times, the enormity of the COVID-19 situation and it’s lingering effects can be devastating. Anyone who feels they are struggling for a prolonged period can call the confidential helpline for advice. If they agree that more clinical intervention is needed, a separate consultation can be set up with a psychiatrist or psychotherapist. We also urge that people with pre-existing mental health conditions continue with their treatment plans and to call their doctor or the helpline if they experience any deterioration in their symptoms,” added Dr. Al Abdulla.
Mr. Iain Tulley, National Lead for Mental Health and CEO of the Mental Health Services at HMC highlighted how well the helpline has been received: “A public feedback survey conducted last year showed 90% of callers expressed satisfaction in the service provided, with callers saying that they would recommend the service to a friend or relative. Over 85% commented that it was easy to access the helpline. The scope of the service has been broadened to provide greater access to a range of support and treatment. We have experienced staff who are trained in managing different types of calls, including families with children, adults, older adults and women seeking maternal mental health support.”
A growing number of primary care health centers provide mental health screening and treatment services. These services complement the Mental Health Helpline efforts and are in line with the National Health Strategy target to improve access to mental health services and delivering 40% of care within the primary and community sector by 2022. The Helpline has provided a further point of access as Qatar continues to ensure ease of access to mental health services which are free from stigma.