Over 6,600 calls made to National Care Hotline

About 500 volunteers take turns manning the 24-hour hotline.
About 500 volunteers take turns manning the 24-hour hotline.PHOTO: DESMOND LEE/FACEBOOK

Some ask about Covid-19, support measures, while others call over financial issues, anxiety

More than 6,600 calls have been made to the National Care Hotline since its launch on April 10, said Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee in a Facebook post yesterday.

There have been about 380 calls a day, of which more than 40 per cent are channelled to the hotline's trained professionals. The other calls are diverted to other helplines for their specific needs.

Mr Lee said about 500 volunteers take turns manning the 24-hour hotline, which was set up to provide psychological first aid and emotional support to those who need it during the Covid-19 crisis.

About 22 to 25 from a pool of psychologists, counsellors, social workers, psychiatrists and public officers are rostered daily across three eight-hour shifts.

"Each call is unique, and gives us a glimpse into the multifaceted challenges different individuals are facing in this crisis," said Mr Lee.

In a Zoom interview with the media on Tuesday, Ms Vivienne Ng, chief psychologist of the Ministry of Social and Family Development, said that of the callers directed to the volunteers, 15 per cent have asked about Covid-19 and support measures such as the Temporary Relief Fund and public financial assistance scheme ComCare, while another 14 per cent were calling due to anxiety.

Eleven per cent called about financial issues, while 10 per cent sought emotional support.

Another 6 per cent were facing family conflicts, divorce and parenting issues, while 4 per cent of callers had experienced aggression by family members.

In such situations, the professional would advise them to call the police or the adult or child protective services, or a family violence specialist centre, said Ms Ng.

When those on duty take calls, they carry out psychological first aid and try to link the callers up with family and friends.

Alternatively, the callers are connected to a network that includes community resources such as social service agencies, which can provide more specialised help on a more prolonged basis, Ms Ng said.

She added that she was particularly concerned about an increase in depression among people over the medium to long term if there is a prolonged period of recession.

Ms Ng, when asked about any silver lining amid the crisis, said: "I hope we will come out more resilient. After a disaster or crisis, people do come out stronger as they realise that they could cope better than they originally thought."

  • GETTING HELP

  • • National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868

    MENTAL WELL-BEING

    • Fei Yue's Online Counselling Service: eC2.sg

    • Institute of Mental Health's Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222

    • Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444

    • Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6385-3714

    • Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788

    MARITAL AND PARENTING ISSUES

    • Community Psychology Hub's Online Counselling platform: CPHOnlineCounselling.sg

    VIOLENCE OR ABUSE

    • Big Love Child Protection Specialist Centre: 6445-0400

    • HEART @ Fei Yue Child Protection Specialist Centre: 6819-9170

    • PAVE Integrated Services for Individual and Family Protection: 6555-0390

    • Project StART: 6476-1482

    • TRANS SAFE Centre: 6449-9088

    COUNSELLING

    • TOUCHline (Counselling): 1800-377-2252

    • Care Corner Counselling Centre: 1800-353-5800

    ELDERLY

    • Agency for Integrated Care Hotline: 1800-650-6060

Another 24-hour hotline, manned by the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), has seen a large number of calls during this period.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, SOS said it received 3,826 calls last month, 23 per cent more than the 3,121 calls in March last year.

"While it may be difficult to fully attribute the increase in number of calls to the current Covid-19 pandemic, it is observed that more callers have expressed their anxieties, both for themselves and for their loved ones, during this period," said SOS chief executive Gasper Tan.

He said SOS has seen an increasing number of calls about the loss of job opportunities and income stability, while some have been caught in conflicts between spouses or between parent and child.

A bleak economic outlook and the impact from a sudden reduction or loss of income during the pandemic can be especially severe for lower-income families, Mr Tan said, adding that the prolonged feelings of fear, worry and anxiety may affect their mental health.

He advised those with difficulties coping with their emotions during this time to try strategies such as managing their exposure to media reporting, as repetitively tuning in to news about the severity of the pandemic may heighten anxiety.

They should also engage in hobbies or activities to keep them occupied and distracted from overwhelming issues, stay connected with others through different means and reach out for support where needed.

"Several mental health agencies offer hotline or online counselling services that the community can readily access without leaving their homes during this period," Mr Tan added.

Minister Lee said: "Taking care of our mental and emotional health is key to us emerging stronger from this crisis.

"Let's encourage our family members and friends who we know are feeling down or distressed to pick up the phone and dial in to the National Care Hotline, or our other community helplines."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2020, with the headline 'Over 6,600 calls made to National Care Hotline'. Print Edition | Subscribe