Free counselling hotline launched to address mental health

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A toll-free mental health counselling hotline was launched on Monday to provide support for persons dealing with stress and other mental health issues as Guyana continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hotline was launched under the Mental Health Unit ‘Safe Space’ programme. It is expected that the same professional in-person counselling provided by the unit will now be administered via the telephone.

The 655-SAFE (655-7233) hotline will provide 24/7 counselling services to persons in need all across Guyana.

“It will serve as a safe space to discuss feelings and emotions triggered by daily stress and help persons identify issues which cause emotional distress and help them to develop strategies and solutions to help decreases the severity of their symptoms,” Head of the Mental Health Unit, Dr Util Thomas said.

Dr Thomas stated that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have only increased the need for mental health services.

According to research done by the University of Oxford and the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, one in five persons tested positive for COVID-19 are diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder such as anxiety, depression and insomnia.

Even after the pandemic, it is expected that the need for mental health care will increase and as such, Dr Thomas is calling for more investment in this critical area.

“Investment in mental health at this moment is very critical,” Dr Thomas said.

Dr Thomas said this proactive approach will help to further prevent mental health disorders from progressing as well as serve as a safe space to refer persons to other mental health and social services offered by government and non-governmental Organisations such as the Ministry of Human Services and Help and Shelter.

Meanwhile, Minister of Health, Dr Frank Anthony says this initiative can help save lives and urged that counselors be professional while executing their duties via the telephone.

“Mental health is one of the challenges that we do have in our country and it is been so for a long time because there is a certain shame and stigma that is attached to persons with mental health,” the Minister said.

He acknowledged that more mental health training is needed for health care providers, pointing out that sometimes doctors and nurses are not able to detect the signs of mental health from patients.

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