Suicide hotline to expand its services

Updated: 2013-11-03 23:58

By Wang Hongyi in Shanghai (China Daily)

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Shanghai's first 24-hour suicide hotline will expand its services to five other locations in the country to meet the huge demand for psychological aid and suicide intervention.

The hotline, which began to use the new number 400-161-9995 from Friday, was launched at the end of last year by the nonprofit organization The Life Education and Crisis Intervention Center.

Services will be extended to Beijing, Shenzhen, and provinces of Henan, Hebei and Jilin starting from Dec 3.

Unlike other suicide hotlines, this one offers services late at night and early in the morning, the peak times for people to reach out for psychological aid.

"We have received many calls since the hotline opened last year. And a considerable amount of (the callers) live outside Shanghai. We feel it's urgent and necessary to offer more services for people in need," said Lin Kunhui, founder of the Life Education and Crisis Intervention Center, who is also the secretary-general of the Taiwan Suicide Prevention and Cure Association.

More than 2,400 calls have been received since the hotline opened last December, with around 20 percent of the callers in need of urgent "crisis intervention". Meanwhile, nearly 40 percent of its callers were from outside the city, according to the operators.

Volunteer recruiting and training have already started in the five new locations.

According to Lin's plan, more than 30 calling centers for suicide intervention will be established across the country by the end of 2014, a move he hopes will create a larger network for suicide prevention and psychological aid.

"So far, there is still no complete system for suicide intervention. And much work should be done on it. In the future, these calling centers will work together to provide the service. If one line is busy, the caller will be switched automatically to another line, even if they are not in a same city," Lin said. "We hope that our service will always be accessible for those who need it."

Each year, approximately 287,000 Chinese commit suicide while another 2 million attempt it, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

As Chinese people become more open-minded, suicide, which has long been a taboo in the country, is being discussed more frequently.

Over the past decade, various psychological aid and suicide intervention hotlines have opened across the country, although the exact number for these hotlines, which are operated by government or social bodies, is not available.

However, the operation of many hotlines is not desirable or sustainable. China Youth Daily recently reported that 14 of 18 hotlines were not accessible or no longer in service.

Also, many hotlines that claimed to be available 24 hours didn't have staff answering calls after 12 am, a peak time for people calling for crisis intervention.

"Our statistics showed that many calls were received between 10 pm and 8 am the next day, accounting for about 40 percent of the total. Among them, many were in crisis condition," said Lin, noting that the sustainability of a suicide hotline relies on the stability of its staff.

"The turnover rate for hotline operators was 70 to 80 percent. Constrained by limited opportunities for career advancement, many hotline operators quit after a period of time," Li Xianyun, deputy director of the Beijing Psychological Crisis Research and Intervention Center, told China Youth Daily.

Lin, from the Life Education and Crisis Intervention Center, said he has worked out a series of measures trying to retain hotline staff, such as hiring more employees and shortening working hours.

Each suicide hotline center should be manned with about 200 volunteers, he said.

In addition to the hotline, The Life Education and Crisis Intervention Center will work together with local governments, schools and companies to organize awareness-raising activities.

According to statistics from the hotline, severe crises mainly affect people in the 20-30 age group, with white-collar workers accounting for the majority of callers. Marriage and love issues are among the most common reasons for seeking help.

"Due to the lack of an adequate education in psychological behaviors, many young people have failed to find a solution to their problems. And some choose to cut their lives short," Lin said.

"In the next step, we will offer more public courses in communities to try to help young people deal with marriage and love issues."