Letters to the Editor

Try online counselling for the mentally ill

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

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Dear Editor,

With the advent of technology and the alarming increase in suicide in Jamaica it is about time our Ministry of Health provide live online counselling.

Jamaica abounds with broken, bruised and battered people. Many struggle with heavy burdens that could be offloaded through online therapy. In fact, we could have an app that citizens could easily click on and, within seconds, access rehabilitative help.

Let us remember that not everyone has someone with whom they can talk without being judged or gossiped about shortly after.

If more of our citizens could access a 24-hour online counselling service there is a great possibility that suicide, including murder-suicide, would decrease. After all, there would be someone to assist the depressed with effectively handling their problems.

Yes, I am aware that we have a toll-free helpline; however, very few people have landline access to make these free-of-charge calls. Free Wi-Fi and basic smartphones are much more accessible. Furthermore, this dedicated helpline seems to be out of service. Just before writing this letter, I conducted an experiment. I dialled the helpline – 1-888-NEW-LIFE (1-888-639-5433) – but the phone rang repeatedly without answer.

Undoubtedly, if this helpline were to work, it would be useful. However, through a virtual platform, people can better maintain their anonymity while receiving professional help.

Come on, we have many underutilised psychologists and social workers whose services could be engaged for such an initiative. We could also have other citizens volunteer as listeners and layman counsellors. There are many people who have been through traumatic circumstances and have since developed tremendous mental fortitude and a realistic sense of know-how that they could use in assisting others.

We need to recognise that mental illness does not always manifest itself in tattered, dirty clothes and rubbish-bin feastings. The cleanest among us sometimes suffer silently, but people generally fear being judged, stigmatised and labelled through the traditional face-to-face counselling offered at churches and elsewhere. Consequently, a safe and secure online counselling room would certainly be highly appreciated by many Jamaicans.

I see a number of countries, such as Australia, providing similar services to its citizens. We are a small country, but we can follow suit over time and be quite pro-active in our response to mental illness.

Shawna Kay Williams-Pinnock


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