National Center for Mental Health crisis hotline now open

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) launched on Thursday, May 2, a national crisis hotline to assist people with mental health concerns ranging from counseling to psychiatric emergencies and suicide prevention.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the crisis hotline is operated by the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH), which has trained respondents to properly deal with those in need 24/7.

The hotline can be reached through the following numbers:

0917-899-USAP (8727)
0917-989-8727

"The hotline aims to send a message to those with mental health issues that they are not alone. It's okay to not be okay.... There is hope. Recovery is possible and there should be no shame in getting help," Duque said in a press conference on Thursday.

According to NCMH officer-in-charge (OIC) Allan Baquir, the hotline offers assistance for callers experiencing depression, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse and addiction, and other mental health concerns.

Aside from these, the hotline is also for individuals needing mental health assistance related to issues such as gender identity and sexual orientation, school and career, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and violence against women and children, among others.

The NCMH said responders who would be taking calls will assess and classify the risk of callers. They may fall under:

If necessary, responders will refer callers with severe risk to experts or hospitals with mental health services. (READ: A cry for help: Mental illness, suicide cases rising among youth)

According to the World Health Organization, over 800,000 people die by suicide each year, a number that translates to one death every 40 seconds. In the Philippines, the NCMH cites the suicide rate as 3.2 for every 100,000 people. (WATCH: What can you do to prevent suicide?)

Accessible right away? While the hotline can be accessed 24/7, Duque said it is currently being manned by only two respondents at the moment, as the DOH and the NCMH are still completing preparations needed for a national trunkline to be launched later in May.

Prior to the NCMH crisis hotline, the DOH's suicide hotline named Hopeline drew flak for supposedly being inaccessible. Despite an announcement that Hopeline would be available 24/7, callers reported being told over the phone that the line stops taking calls after "business hours."

Responding to this, Beverly Azucena, also an OIC of the NCMH, gave assurances that the planned trunkline, which has already been set up with the National Telecommunications Commission, will be able to accommodate about 8 to 10 callers at a time. It will also be available 24/7.

The NCMH crisis hotline also seeks to increase mental health literacy among the public, provide access to mental health services, and improve the Philippines' standing in happiness indices. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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