Mental Health hotline operators in Barbados receive training

Training of hotline workers in Barbados

Bridgetown, Barbados, 18 October 2023 (PAHO) - The Ministry of Health and Wellness, in association with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), hosted training for hotline operators who have been equipped with the skills required to provide mental health support via telephone or text messaging.

During Training of Operators for National Mental Health Hotline, hosted from October 17th to 19th, 2023, hotline operators received intense training from experienced trainer Professor Brian Mishara, Director of the Center for Research and Intervention on Suicide, Ethical Issues & End of Life Practices (CRISE) and Professor of Psychology at the University of Quebec in Montreal, Canada.

The main objective of the workshop was to ensure operators could assess a person’s level of risk and respond appropriately. The training workshop taught such skills as developing active listening skills, establishing a relationship with a caller, and verifying the presence of suicide ideation. There was a discussion on defining suicide, myths about suicide, and suicide prevention helplines worldwide. Much of the training workshop involved role play which gave the operators the opportunity to practice real life scenarios.

Although suicide rates are low in Barbados, the Ministry of Health and Wellness - operating by the premise that one case is one too many - is working to strengthen the Ministry’s response to the need that exists.

Professor Mishara assured that “Most people who call helplines like this feel better after talking to you. Some will need follow-up, will need referrals, some may need emergency medical care on the spot.”

Professor Brian Mishara

The professor said the role of the hotline operator is to help callers to see they have the resources to cope. He said focusing on callers, as well as their problems, helps them to be empowered.

In instances where there is a crisis, the hotline will provide crisis intervention, said Professor Mishara. “You will have people who are desperate or feeling lost, confused, they don’t know what to do, and by the end of the call they will be feeling ok. Doesn’t mean their problems are solved. (The operator) may avert them feeling desperate or suicidal during the call and encourage them to get help and even refer them to some services where they will deal with their problems.”

Professor Mishara has worked with countries around the world to establish hotlines and is a past president/member of The College of Presidents of The International Association for Suicide Prevention.

PAHO/WHO Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Countries (ECC), Dr. Amalia Del Riego, said of the training: “PAHO is honoured to be able to provide the Ministry of Health and Wellness with the support required to ensure hotline operators have the tools required to meet a need in the Barbadian society. We are quite fortunate to have Professor Brian Mishara join us to provide our team with the best practices they will need for their mission.”