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Centre offers mental aid to prevent suicide
By Li Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-12-05 22:55

Every two minutes, nine Chinese attempt to take their lives and eight die.

While efforts to relieve psychological suffering are becoming more and more a priority, much more needs to be done, experts say.

Happily, the Chinese capital has undertaken new initiatives such as a 24-hour hotline that provides free psychological consultations to desperate people. It opened last year at the Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Centre.

So far, more than 110,000 people have dialed into seek help and many regained their faith in life after talking with psychologists, said Zhang Xiaoli, a centre official.

She spoke at the opening ceremony for a five-day training programme for psychologists, which started on Friday in Beijing.

"Emotional release is an essential phase in suicide intervention. Venting depression and anger through discussions with psychological professionals is a good way to prevent suicide attempts," Zhang told China Daily.

Centre statistics show that among 5,873 callers, about 83 per cent of them said they felt better in varying degrees after talking.

However, a lack of funds is prohibiting such efforts, said Zhang.

Michael Phillips, executive director of the centre, told reporters that one of his greatest headaches is that only less than 10 per cent of the callers can get through on the hotline at present.

"Nine of every 10 persons only hears a busy tone. It's very dangerous because they may be at high risk of committing suicide," said Phillips.

Poverty, unemployment, bereavement, arguments, breakdowns in relationships and legal or work-related problems are all listed as causes for committing suicide.

To prevent it, the government, social organizations, medical staff and every person in the country need to be more aware of possible victims, said Phillips.

"A good sign is that the central government has attached more attention on mental health and the State Council issued a document in September this year on the intervention of psychological crisis," said Phillips.

He told China Daily that his centre has worked with the Beijing prison management authorities to provide psychological assistance to people doing time.

According to an agreement signed by the two parties in October, the centre provides a special hotline to people in prison three mornings every week, and a senior psychologist will provide mental consultation.

"Experiences of foreign countries show that the rate of suicide in prison is higher than other places. I think the co-operation between my centre and the local prison management authorities is constructive. But how effective the special hotline is needs further investigation," said Phillips.

Cao Lianyuan, president of the Beijing Huilongguan Hospital that specializes in the treatment of mental disorders, said at the ceremony that many big cities across the country, including Shanghai, Nanjing and Chengdu, have established special mental counseling hotlines and suicide prevention centres in recent years.

Cai said his hospital is considering teaming up with related institutions in other cities to set up a unified three-number hotline like the 119 fire alarm. That would allow every person who needs psychological support to receive timely consultation by dialing the hotline wherever he or she is.

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