People who are deaf are almost twice as likely to experience a mental health problem as people who can hear, and the very nature of the disability creates problems accessing helplines that could offer support in cases of stress, depression or suicidal thoughts.
However, an innovative webcam service that allows deaf people in Scotland to communicate face-to-face with trained mental health advisers has been honoured in this week’s awards by the Helplines Association (THA).
The service, funded by Scotland’s NHS 24 care and information service, is run by Breathing Space, a Scottish helpline for people feeling depressed or down. The fact that callers and advisers can see each other and communicate directly using British Sign Language allows a much more nuanced conversation.
It has been running for only six weeks, but THA chief executive Rekha Wadhwani says “its unique concept and use of existing technology” was enough to secure joint winner spot in the Innovative Use of Technology category in the awards, held in conjunction with BT on Monday.
As 40% of people in the deaf community experience some form of mental health problem at some stage in their lives, compared with 25% in the hearing community, the need for this service was obvious, says Breathing Space’s national co-ordinator, Tony McLaren. “It’s available out of working hours, it’s free and you can access us from the comfort of your own living room, so what’s not to like?”
McLaren says the win will help to promote the service. “And that means more deaf people can get help.”
The service is open all weekend and from 6pm until 2am week-nights, but with only two BSL-trained advisers McLaren is concerned about accessibility. “You pluck up a lot of courage to make a call about a mental health issue, and you want to get through not be left on hold.”
McLaren says now they must demonstrate to NHS 24 that the service works and also see if it has other applications.
Breathing Space shared the innovation award with Seafarers Link, a new friendship line for ex-seafarers from fishing communities, the military and the merchant navy.
The New Helpline of the Year award went to Racing Welfare, a charity set up to provide counselling support and advice for anyone in the horse racing industry. Alice Young from Childline in Scotland won Helpline Volunteer of the Year, and Fiona Elvines from the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre, Croydon won Helpline Staff Member of the Year.
– Thanks to The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/feb/10/deaf-helpline-webcam-mental-health.