« Our call center is overwhelmed at the moment », says Pascal Nery Jean-Charles, President of AHPsy, in an exclusive interview with AyiboPost
The toll-free call center set up by the Haitian Association of Psychology (AHPsy) received 359 requests for psychological assistance in May 2023, compared to 184 the month prior.
This data, shared exclusively with AyiboPost, illustrates a « steadily worsening deterioration in the overall state of the population’s mental health, » according to Pascal Nery Jean-Charles, President of AHPsy.
Under normal circumstances, the 29199000 number hosted by Digicel only receives a dozen calls per day. However, since May, this number has more than doubled.
« Our call center is overwhelmed at the moment, » adds Jean-Charles. « The number of calls has exploded following the two highly publicized cases of suicide that occurred in May and June 2023. »
This data illustrates a steadily worsening deterioration in the overall state of the population’s mental health.
Calls come in for a variety of reasons. This includes suicidal thoughts, relationship and marital problems, depression, stress, anxiety, lack of motivation, and traumas linked to robberies, kidnappings, and accidents, according to documents obtained by AyiboPost.
Desco is a 29-year-old young woman specialized in marketing. She said she called the helpline at the end of May because she was overwhelmed by the urge to end her life.
« I was facing enormous difficulties in my personal and professional life, » says the young lady, who requests the use of her nickname to protect her privacy.
« I wanted to talk to someone who could listen to me without judgment, » continues Desco, describing the service as « impeccable. »
« The psychologist on the other end of the line took his time; the call duration didn’t matter to him, » reveals Desco.
The increase in demand for psychological assistance comes in a context where the budget allocated to mental health in Haiti represents only 1% of the public health budget.
Established in 2011, the Haitian Association of Psychology brought together mental health professionals, including psychologists and social workers. Its objective is to promote psychology throughout the country while raising public awareness about the importance of mental health care.
In April 2020, a period marked by the Covid-19 pandemic and an increase in cases of insecurity in the country, AHPsy launched a telephone helpline where people can call for free psychological assistance.
The number of calls has exploded following the two highly publicized cases of suicide that occurred in May and June 2023.
Between April 2020 and May 2023, more than 9,500 calls were recorded on the helpline, including 3,814 from women, 2,586 from men, 3,038 from undetermined callers, and 89 other uncategorized calls during the first month, according to documents obtained by AyiboPost.
Pascal Nery Jean-Charles, President of AHPsy, says, « Many young professionals are calling us, struggling with relationship issues and depression. »
The psychologist believes that in addition to the two high-profile cases of suicide that occurred in May and June 2023, which could explain this surprising increase, there is, at root, a progressive deterioration of living conditions in Haiti.
« We have experienced a series of unfortunate events in the country over the past three years, » says psychologist Jean-Charles, referring in particular to the different waves of insecurity experienced by the population, the Covid-19 pandemic, the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, and the earthquake in August 2021. Added to these are the ongoing economic and financial difficulties faced by families.
« On a psychological level, people have become very vulnerable, » adds the specialist.
The increase in mental health advocacy throughout the country, particularly in the media, is helping to give more and more people the reassurance to seek psychological help.
For instance, in October 2022, with the launch of the « SOS Depresyon » campaign initiated by psychologist Colinx Mondésir with support from AHPsy, the number of calls related to depression increased by nearly 19% compared to previous months, according to Pascal Nery Jean-Charles.
Many young professionals are calling us, struggling with relationship issues and depression.
The documents reviewed by AyiboPost also reveal that there are specific periods where call volumes are much higher than others.
Spikes in the number of calls were recorded by AHPsy following the failed police operation in Village de Dieu in March 2021, the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021, the earthquake in August 2021 in the southern region of the country which caused nearly 2,200 deaths, and during the year-end holidays.
« There is a real mental health emergency in Haiti, » reckons Jean-Charles.
The AHPsy call center has about thirty psychologists and social workers divided into two groups. The first group, consisting of graduating psychology students, receives the calls and provides initial assistance to the person on the other end of the line. If the case exceeds their level of expertise, they transfer the call to someone more specialized for follow-ups. Said person might go on to refer the individual to a treatment center or hospital, depending on their situation.
To protect the identity of the callers, calls made through the helpline are confidential and anonymous. « We do not ask for the name of the person calling, » says psychologist Jean-Charles. « Furthermore, the data shared by the callers remains strictly confidential, » he assures.
The data for the month of June 2023, which was not yet available at the time of the article’s publication, was obtained by AyiboPost on July 6th. It once again shows an increase in calls in recent months, with over 424 calls recorded on the line for the month of June.
If you need psychological support, call 29199000.
Widlore Mérancourt contributed to this report.
English translation by Sarah Jean.
This article was updated on July 7, 2023, following the receipt by AyiboPost of data concerning the number of calls for psychological support received by AHPsy for the month of June 2023.
© Cover image : freepik
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