(C) Gerlo Beernink, gerlo@gerlo.nl

Suicide prevention help line on the lookout for new volunteers

The suicide prevention help line (Zelfmoordlijn) received more than 15,000 calls last year. This is an average of more than 40 calls a day to the free phone number 1813. Given the number of calls, those that run the help line are keen to recruit extra volunteers. A large portion of the calls to Zelfmoordlijn are made between 6pm and 2am. 

Belgium has the highest suicide rate in Western Europe. Each day three people in Belgium commit suicide. Those with questions concerning suicide can seek help from Zelfmoordlijn either by calling 1813 or by logging on to its website www.zelfmoord.be for a chat session. This coming Tuesday (10 September) is International Suicide Prevention Day.  

Kristen Pauwels of the Centre for Suicide Prevention told VRT News that “In fact Zelfmoordlijn is constantly looking for extra people to answer the telephone or respond to chat because we are aware that the people that contact us aren’t always able to talk or chat straight away.     

The period between 6pm and 2am is always the busiest. "We have a system in which our volunteers plan their shifts themselves. It’s at these time that we require most capacity”.   

Those wishing to volunteer don’t need any previous training. What they do need is time and motivation “People don’t need any prior training. What we do look at is whether they can make a few hours a month free for us. Does the person have enough resilience? Does he or she have what it to conduct these kinds of difficult conversations? We offer training and at the end of the training they have to show that they can really conduct a conversation with somebody that is really considering suicide”. Candidates can say which medium (telephone, chat or e-mail) suits them best”, Ms Pauwels added.        

Currently, Zelfmoordlijn 161 volunteers, double the number it had 5 years ago.

Kirsten Pauwels says that the help line will require extra funding if the number of volunteers continues to grow to between 200 and 250. She added that the organisation dreams of being able to keep its chat box open around the clock, but that this would require increasing staffing capacity fivefold.

Zelfmoordlijn’s telephone helpline 1813 is available around the clock. Its chatroom is open from 6:30pm to 10:30pm.