The helpless helpline

There are many different helplines and support groups offered around the UK. The most popular ones include Samaritans, Childline, PAPYRUS, Depression Alliance, Students Against Depression, and Bullying UK. There is even a specific support group for men called the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), since men may be more likely to ignore mental health issues than women or children. From November 2010 to October 2011, there were 265,445 dialogue contact calls and 132,912 silent/lasting less than ten seconds calls made to the Samaritan helpline.  

But I’m not here to promote helplines. In fact, I think they perpetuate the existing problem which is society’s inability to respect the magnitude of mental health problems. When helplines first came into being, they provided the benefit of making geography, time, and cost irrelevant. More importantly, they raised awareness around mental health issues. Today, the disadvantages of hotlines outweigh that initial awareness advantage from the early days. If the hotline is made up of many volunteers, it is hard for a caller to reconnect with the same person every time. This, and the lack of physical presence, can diminish the emotional relationship between the caller and the listener. A system of volunteers may also bring up the question of “who is listening and is my call being recorded?” putting callers on edge. A caller can also potentially be calling from a stressful environment (ie work, home) where they may not be able to fully concentrate and reflect on what is bothering them, and are prone to be easily distracted. The overarching, most important, most time-sensitive problem is that a helpline by definition means that the caller could not get sufficient help from the family, friends, and work environment around him or her. There are social stigmas attached to being depressed, having a phobia, being stressed, being anorexic, etc.  and people are seen to be “weak” or “needy” or “self-absorbed.” These stigmas make it difficult for would-be callers to open up to their sister, or wife, or colleague. We don’t need to spend more money on expanding helplines. We need to create a society that understands the importance of mental health well being.

This afternoon when you open your front door, after taking off your coat and dropping your bags, take a second to genuinely ask someone in your house how they are feeling. It’s the small steps that lead to big changes. Share this post with your friends and comment below to tell us what you think.