I was looking through the Ministry of Health’s suicide prevention material the other day, and I came across a list of various mental health hotlines. These services can be amazing, and they’re a valuable resource. They can also be a dozen shades of useless, depending on your situation, but they are a valuable piece of the mental health care system. However, I saw an immediate issue with many of them, one that could be a barrier to their effectiveness in some cases.
They aren’t 24-hour services.
I can understand why. Funding is limited, and they need to be available for the times when most people will call in. I would guess that many of them would be 24-hours services, if only they could get the funding. But we live in a world where mental health funding is severely limited, and we live with what we can get, right?
. . . or die with it. The one that really stuck out for me was the Suicide Crisis Helpline – the one that you call when things have hit the fan, and you’re lining up your means of exit. They’re open from midday to midnight. The thing is, suicidal impulses don’t just occur in those hours. Desperation calls in the dark hours of the night, in the grey dawn when hopelessness grows unchecked, as well as in the despairing mid-afternoon moments of loneliness and the late evening desperation. Midday is far too late when you slipped away into oblivion at 5am.
Depression and other serious mental illnesses aren’t good at keeping to a schedule. Some of the most desperate moments I’ve ever dealt with have been middle of the night drives for help, or 10am suicide attempts. Much of this should be dealt with by emergency services maybe, but mental health lines are often given to mental health services clients as their first port of call, and it would be good if they were open all the time.
There is the argument that there are at least some that are open at every hour, that it’s just a matter of finding the right one. That search for the right one is too much for someone in crisis. If they’ve been given the Depression Helpline by the official government website, and it’s closed, what then? They will be directed to call another line, but that might just be a step too far. What about the kids and teens, who get told to call the What’s Up line, but only between 1pm and 11pm. What do they do if the only time it’s safe to call is in the morning after their parents have gone to work, or after their parents have gone to sleep at night?
Yet again, we fail the vulnerable. Would it not make sense, instead of having nine different helplines, to consolidate them into two or three services that run around the clock? A general line, a youth line, and a suicide helpline maybe? It would seem to me that a few well-resourced services would give better coverage than nine that struggle to cover enough staff to work enough hours.