MSDFS launches new 24-Hour Suicide Prevention Hotline

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MSDFS launches new 24-Hour Suicide Prevention Hotline

A new 24-Hour Suicide Prevention Hotline, 800 – COPE (2673), is now available from the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services.

This Hotline which is free of charge is intended to efficiently support persons with crisis issues related to suicidal ideations, abuse, and anxiety and help those in need of emotional support. This new service was formally launched, under the auspices of Senator the Honourable Donna Cox, earlier today, June 14, 2023, at the Maraval Community Centre.

This 24-Hour Hotline would be operated by specially trained personnel and is confidential, with a minimum wait time to speak to an Active Listener. It will be supported by follow-up interventions to promote healthy, functional individuals and families. Soon, it will comprise a Live Web Chat facility allowing people to reach out via online messaging for real-time support. The goal is to provide a safe and confidential space where individuals can seek help and guidance.

“We must acknowledge that suicide extends to the people intimately connected to the individual. Family, friends, co-workers, and others are left grappling with an immeasurable void. The pain and grief experienced by loved ones cannot be understated as they navigate the aftermath of such a devastating loss,” stated Minister Cox.

She said that the Ministry recognises suicide as a global public health concern which requires urgent and immediate attention.

“We lost 561 lives to suicide in Trinidad and Tobago in just over a five-year period. Put another way, from January 1, 2018, to December 31, 2022, an average of 108 persons per year died by suicide within the last five years…These statistics, ladies and gentlemen, point increasingly to the need for additional and active prevention strategies. Your Government’s National Suicide Hotline is one such response.”

Minister Cox said that coupled with the mental strain experienced by several families due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry recognises the critical need to support those struggling with suicidal thoughts or those bereaved by suicide-related circumstances.

She said while the social, psychological, cultural and other factors increase the risk of suicidal behaviour, the stigma attached to suicide means that many persons who require help do not seek the necessary support. Minister Cox acknowledged that several NGOs in Trinidad and Tobago are currently working alongside the Government to manage mental health issues to prevent suicide, and “the Ministry takes this opportunity to applaud them for their dedication and commitment to this particular cause.”

However, she acknowledged that, more often than not, these NGOs work independently of each other, and they face several critical challenges that affect their overall impact, which results in a gap in the social response mechanism to effectively deal with the issue of suicide and crisis issues in general.

To effectively address this issue, the Ministry considers the launch of this 24-Hour Crisis hotline to be timely and hopes that it will efficiently address crisis issues related to suicidal ideations and other critical issues faced by our citizens. The Ministry anticipates that 800- COPE would save lives and allow access to online and phone counselling services to a larger number of persons.

“This initiative would facilitate data collection and data quality regarding the number of persons that attempt suicide and those that experience suicidal ideation as well as family crisis issues. This would allow for social changes to be identified through the monitoring and evaluation component of the helpline, which would inform policy development and other initiatives to assist with suicide prevention and family crisis issues.”

The Hotline, she said, will serve as a lifeline that pulls individuals from the depths of their darkest moments, providing solace, understanding, and the opportunity for healing; behind every saved life lies a story of redemption, resilience, and the triumph of the human spirit.

She reminded everyone that “If you think someone is at immediate risk of self-harm or hurting another person, including- reaching out to a trusted friend, family member, or healthcare professional; removing any harmful items, or other things that may cause harm and listening without judging, arguing, threatening, or yelling.”

The Ministry intends to use a Whole of Government, Whole of Society approach by collaborating with several stakeholders, including the Ministry of Health, the Family Court, the Children’s Authority, the Trinidad and Tobago Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, Non-Governmental Organisations, Community-Based Organisations and Faith Based Organisations.

“All must be involved” emphasised Minister Cox.

Persons can access the Hotline by calling 800 – COPE (2673).

Also in attendance were Permanent Secretary at the Ministry, Lenor Baptiste-Simmons; Deputy Permanent Secretaries- Ryan Ramcharan and Wendy Guy-Hernandez; Assistant Director of the National Family Services Division- Kathleen Sarkar; and various non-governmental organisations.