The hotline, registered as 8015, comes to provide free and confidential emotional support to people in emotional distress or those having a suicidal crisis. It will be operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Samuel Munderere, the founder of ‘Mental Health First’, which is behind the initiative, told The New Times in an interview that the line comes to solve some of the challenges that surround mental illness especially stigma.
“Mental illness is not something that many people in Rwanda understand and because of that, there is still a lot of stigma attached to it. We think that this suicide prevention helpline will offer those in distress, especially those with suicidal thoughts to call and seek support without necessarily meeting the counsellors,” he said.
He explained that the hotline will also be used as an opportunity to gather the much needed data that can inform future decisions on how best to handle mental health challenges, particularly suicide.
He said that this line will also support people who need help but cannot afford it from private mental health clinics. He further explained that this line will also raise awareness about the availability of mental health services at government-run community health centres and the importance of embracing them.
How it will work
Munderere explained that the line will be open at all times and professional psychologists speaking English, French or Kinyarwanda will be readily available to help those in crisis through it.
“The psychologists will basically listen, ask questions where necessary and provide the caller with professional advice on the next steps. In cases deemed serious, we will contact police to help the caller get to hospital,” he said.
A welcome step
Justine Mukamwezi, a clinical psychologist at ‘Solid Minds’ told The New Times that the suicide prevention line is ‘timely’. She said that the line will not only support those in distress or those with suicidal thoughts, it will also be a resource for other people to get information on how they can help friends and loved ones in a crisis.
“People with suicidal thoughts have a way they ask for help without necessarily saying the words. Someone could start selling off their belongings and maybe start talking about how they have given up on life. It is imperative that anyone who is with them can read these signs and be able to call this line for support as soon as possible,” she said.
She called for a multi-sectoral comprehensive campaign to raise awareness about this hotline. “This number will only be useful if it known by everyone. We should all strive to make it as popular as these other important numbers like the one of the national police. That is the only way we can reap big from it,” she said.
37-year-old Felix Cyusa Murwanashyaka who has had suicidal thoughts on several occasions told this publication that the introduction of this hotline will help people like him who don’t have family to talk to about their problems.
“There are so many times when I have thought about suicide and wished that I had someone to talk to. This line is welcome because perhaps people like me will have someone to remind them that they are not alone,” he said.
According to the Spokesperson of Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) Thierry B. Murangira, at least 576 people in Rwanda have committed suicide in the last two years.
Broken down, from July 2019 to June 2020, a total of 291 people took their lives while from July 2020 to June 2021, a total of 285 such cases were recorded.
Of these, 28 per cent of the victims left notes attributing their decision to domestic issues, 8 per cent to general mental illnesses, four per cent to depression, three per cent to land disputes, three per cent to chronic illnesses, two per cent to relationship issues, two per cent to poverty, two per cent to debts and two per cent to business losses.
Murangira explained that at least 46 per cent of the victims did not leave any notes behind. “Our culture has built this belief is some people that they have to keep their struggles to themselves but that is unhealthy. It is important to unburden yourself and share some of these challenges with a loved one. It will make you feel better,” he said.
Although a nationwide three months campaign targeting teenagers and young adults aged between 16 and 40 with an aim to raise mental health awareness and decrease the stigma about the illness was rolled out in April, there is still much more that needed to be done.
The Director of the Psychiatric Care Unit at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), Dr Jean-Damascène Iyamuremye, told The New Times in a previous interview that there is need for more funds to be injected into this area to support treatment.
“Mental health is still underfunded yet we need to coordinate activities of treatment and prevention, fighting stigma against victims and we need to raise awareness regarding access to treatment,” he said.
According to RBC, depression prevalence is at 11.9 per cent within the general population and as high as 35.6 per cent are genocide survivors. This means one in three genocide survivors faces trauma.
Prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) stands at 3.6 per cent. Currently, Rwanda has 12 psychiatrists specialising in mental health issues and over 2,000 psychologists.
RBC says that about 223,500 people sought consultation in public hospitals for mental health related treatment in 2018. 10 per cent of the above were new patients while 35.6 per cent are survivors of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
Although no current data is available, this number is expected to increase significantly with the challenges that have been created by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.