• 4/18/2023
    Doha 17 April 2023: The National Mental Health Helpline, supported by the Ministry of Public Health and operated by Hamad Medical Corporation, marks its successful three-year anniversary this April. The free and confidential helpline has radically changed access for individuals in need of professional mental health support, becoming the primary access point to Mental Health care and treatment in Qatar. To date, the helpline has received over 43,000 calls since it was established in April 2020. 

    Mr. Iain Tulley, National Health Strategy Lead for Mental Health and CEO of HMC’s Mental Health Service, said that while COVID-19 provided the catalyst for establishing the helpline in 2020, the importance of Mental Health and improved access to care was previously reflected in the National Health Strategy 2018-2022.

    “The greatest impediment to people seeking support with their Mental Health is the stigma that surrounds services and the fear that asking for help may adversely affect them is a key driver for this service. Raising awareness about symptoms of illness; providing easy and confidential access to help and integrating physical and mental health care has been instrumental in the progress that has been made and in the level of public confidence in this service, surpassing all expectations’ said Mr. Tulley. 

    “We take great pride in our dedicated team of healthcare professionals that has helped to develop the Helpline over the past three years. I am most grateful for the ongoing support we receive from the Ministry of Public Health and particularly the Minister, HE Dr. Hanan Mohamed Al Kuwari, Minister of Public Health,” added Mr. Tulley.

    Dr. Majid Al Abdulla, Chairman of Psychiatry at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) and Medical Director of HMC’s Mental Health Service, said: “We set up the Helpline in Qatar at a time when a greater number of people were experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety relating to COVID-19. We soon discovered, however, that many people were seeking, confidential and professional help for other forms of psychological distress.” Dr. Majid went on to say that seeking help early and providing easy access to psychological help, can prevent an escalation into more serious problems and mental ill health. 

    “Through this service, we can provide fast and personal access to support without the stigma and fear often associated with our traditional services. We have helped many individuals to manage their challenges or, where needed, provide access to more extensive professional support. For many people this has avoided the need for more acute treatment and longer-term care, which is an amazing achievement,” added Dr. Al Abdulla.

    Some of the key achievements and learnings from establishing and managing the helpline will be presented at the upcoming 9th Qatar International Mental Health Conference, scheduled in Doha from 25 to 27 May 2023 [ http://www.hamad.qa/9QIMHC ].

    Ms. Katja Warwick-Smith, Assistant Executive Director of Clinical Service Development and Operational Lead for the Helpline explained that the international helpline team consists of multi-lingual and inter-professional staff to reflect the diversity of callers. “Our mental health experts include nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists who are able to speak in several languages, including Arabic, English, Tagalog, Hindi, Urdu and Malayalam. This is so important as callers find it easier to engage and express themselves in their native language.” 

    The demographic profile of callers has remained fairly consistent throughout the three years, consisting of a wide range of nationalities, equal percentage of men and women callers, and the majority of people who call are between 24 to 35 years of age. However, the profile of reasons for calling has changed, leading to a consolidation of the service post the pandemic peaks. The service now manages not only early interventions, to avoid deterioration of mental health, but increasingly more complex calls. In response to patient demand, the Service now also offers support for callers already in contact with the mental health services, helping callers to navigate the healthcare system and to support continuity of care. 

    “The collective knowledge and experience that has been built up by the team over the past few years been invaluable. The Helpline call-center has provided an ideal opportunity for young psychiatry residents, psychology graduates and mental health nurses to gain specialist training in how to conduct initial triage and basic counselling calls and escalate calls that need more specialist interventions. We are working on extending even more opportunities for learners in healthcare professions to spend time with the Helpline team to gain valuable insights as part of their overall training program,” added Ms. Warwick-Smith.

    The Helpline has four support streams, offering help to parents with children and adolescents, adults, and older adults and there is a specific stream for healthcare professionals. The Helpline can be reached by calling 16000, selecting Arabic or English and then by selecting option 4 for the Mental Health Helpline; all calls are treated in the strictest confidence.