MenagerieHow to save a life: Behind suicide hotlines
How to save a life: Behind suicide hotlines
April 14, 2017
April 14, 2017

In the disarray of mindless switching tabs, you anxiously wait for a reply from just about any of the five friends you already messaged. In the sea of furniture and familiarity of your own room, nothing seems to put you at ease. You’re alone with your thoughts.

Unknown to many, the country actually has a number of 24/7 crisis hotlines. It’s as simple as dialing and saying hello. Callers don’t even have to be on the verge of suicide or diagnosed with depression to avail of this service. Made aware of this, it might save a life.


In memory of Natasha

A tall figure in summery white linen lace and structured black culottes strides into the room. Sitting tall in front of us is the esteemed designer, Jean Goulbourn, whose energy and passion wouldn’t have you guessing that she’s ever lost a daughter to suicide. But this is no wounded warrior.

The Natasha Goulbourn Foundation (NGF) was born when Jean’s then 27 year old daughter committed suicide. She was working in Hong Kong as an accessories designer, clearly at the prime of her life when she was prescribed a higher dosage of antidepressants. 72 hours later, she was gone. Now, instead of celebrating what would’ve been her daughter’s 42nd birthday, Jean celebrates the 10th year of NGF, continuing the advocacy that sparked four years into Tasha’s passing: To bring depression to light.

“NGF is for prevention,” begins Jean. She explains their three main projects to promote suicide prevention and raise mental health awareness: Campus caravans that take the team around different schools in the country targeting the youth; trimedia, which includes television, print, and its recent online presence to spread NGF’s activities and projects; and lastly, partnerships with youth organizations such as organic farm groups and Bambike, a chance to cycle for a cause.

Perhaps NGF’s most important project is Hopeline. Collaborating with the Department of Health (DOH) and the World Health Organization (WHO), NGF launched its very own 24/7 crisis hotline. This is an anonymous phone-based counseling service with trained listeners to help troubled individuals.


suicide hotline_Chancha_colored


On the other line

Rachel* could hear the loud gusts of wind blocking the sound of the caller’s shaky voice and audible panting. She had already learned to stay calm in situations like this after years of experience. After having talked it through and calculated reminders to “just breathe in and breathe out”, Rachel managed to stop a frantic caller, standing atop the edge of a building from jumping. Although this seems atypical in her line of work, each life she’s made a little less daunting for a few minutes, is uniquely precious.

“How are you feeling?” she asks before and after. As one of the pioneers of NGF and responders for Hopeline, Rachel already knows the drill. Callers don’t usually know how to begin, so she eases them into a conversation, tells them to take deep breaths, and assures it’s okay to cry. Calls may last for 30 minutes, in some cases longer but “the end goal is a referral,” she notes.

Whether it’s someone having a panic attack, a high performing professional on antidepressants, somebody mourning a breakup, lonesome elderly, or even a curious caller, Hopeline comforts and extends the option of other avenues for help.

“We can hear from their voices [when they’ve calmed down],” assures Rachel. Following protocol, she then asks, “Did this call make a difference?” After referring a psychologist for further assessment and with sheer confidence that the person on the other line isn’t in danger, she lets them hang up and awaits the next call.

“Suicide knows no age, no class, rich or poor,” emphasizes Jean. Indeed, it doesn’t. Hopeline’s youngest caller was a seven-year-old. Her crisis? She didn’t know who the president of the United States was for her homework. With her parents then separating, the little girl dialed Hopeline, after seeing the number on TV in between cartoons and commercial breaks. The oldest caller, on the other hand, was almost 90 years of age. “Usually it’s emptiness,” says Rachel about the majority of lonely callers they get. Elders want a mature talk, often looking for a respondent of the same age.

Hopeline’s headquarters remain a mystery just as the identities of its trained volunteers are kept anonymous. In return, no names are ever disclosed on both sides. Callers can trust that they’re speaking to qualified individuals. They take shifts and get regular counseling too. Their psychological and mental health are assessed by other professionals to keep them in check.


Life worth living

Various factors come into play for prevention. Some physical and medical problems are a mix of body weight issues, chemical imbalances, brain malfunctions, heart problems, liver diseases, and even carelessly prescribed drugs. Discoveries about depression surface everyday from different fields.

One psychologist is never enough and one session cannot solve a problem, much less determine it immediately. Just as it is advised to seek a second or third opinion when undergoing medical procedures, the same can be said for diagnosing depression. Failure to locate its root causes and appropriate the combative measures may be fatal.

“Prevention is always [a] lifestyle,” reminds Jean. Any imbalance can lead to depression. Eating and sleeping habits, work environment, career fulfillment, and family background contribute to a person’s well being. We might ask, why does a depressed person’s perception of life suddenly shift? Someone suicidal tends to believe he or she is better off gone. This is neither normal nor natural because it is every living creature’s instinct to survive. The constant wish to not be around anymore is simply unnatural.

Jean therefore highlights the importance of emotional resilience. “I teach every child to learn how to love him or herself,” she explains. When undergoing any form of loss or rejection, “you have to always allow yourself to grieve, to experience joy, experience sadness,” she adds. A sense of self worth and identity is essential to combatting adversity. For those already in a depressed state, they ought to want to be helped and ultimately help themselves through hope.

This hope Jean Goulbourn finds in light of losing her own daughter is being shared, in memory of those who have already gone and for those who need help today. NGF is innovative in its ways to make it easier to communicate what seems hard to discuss. This is part of the movement to rid the taboo in the areas of society wherein mental health is still very much tied to stigma.

So if you find yourself unable to talk to anybody for the mean time or you’re just asking for a friend, there’s no harm in picking up the phone or sending a text message to a stranger ready to help. Everybody gets lonely and sad, but it takes courage to admit not having it all together and wanting better days.


*Names with asterisks (*) are pseudonyms.



Philippine’s Emotional Crisis Intervention & Suicide Prevention Hotline

(02) 804 4673

0917 558 4673

2919 (toll-free for Globe & Touch Mobile)