MANILA — When the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) adopted cloud technology to strengthen its 24/7 Crisis Hotline at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people have benefited from the preventive and promotive programs of the Department of Health’s flagship hospital for mental health.
In 2020, NCMH initiated a partnership with ePLDT, the ICT subsidiary of PLDT, with a vision for its #1553 Crisis Hotline to have the widest reach possible. To help achieve this vision, ePLDT deployed its Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) – a cloud-based contact center platform hosted in ePLDT’s local data center, that is fully integrated with Salesforce, a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, that effectively monitors, tracks, and consolidates callers’ information in a single view.
“The Philippine Mental Health Law of 2018 started a change. NCMH is no longer just a hospital that is reactive and treats patients as they come, but a national observatory and reference center for psychiatry and neurology. Part of this change is the creation of a crisis hotline that is both preventive and promotive because we were aware of the increasing cases of suicide in the country even before the pandemic,” said Dr. Bernard B. Argamosa, Medical Specialist III at NCMH and Founding Program Director of NCMH 24/7 Crisis Hotline. A full-fledged psychiatrist, he is a Fellow of the Philippine Psychiatric Association and an International Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.
With the hashtag “Kumusta Ka? Tara, Usap Tayo”, the crisis hotline was launched in May 2019 to help prevent individuals from committing suicide. It also served as a portal that provides access for those in need of mental health intervention to mental health professionals and facilities.
“Back then, we [only] had two numbers and one cellphone. We were doing it manually. We have no way of [doing] checks and balances. It came to a point when we could not control the number of calls anymore. That’s when we decided that we needed to level up,” recalled Argamosa.
At the Philippine Digital Convention 2023, Argamosa talked about the journey of NCMH’s crisis hotline and how the collaboration with ePLDT led to the development of an efficient system that works like a call center and can take a maximum of 15 calls at a time.
It provided NCMH with a single contact center platform capable of inbound with automatic call distribution to manage calls with reportorial capabilities and audit, including emails, chats, SMS, and social media for monitoring customer satisfaction.
Features such as outbound calling capability for call out and call back process, call center management portal, and reporting tools helped NCMH and its cause.
Prior to the CCaaS deployment, the NCMH crisis hotline accommodated only 3,996 calls from May 2019 until February 2020. After the upgrade in 2020, the hotline’s improved capacity resulted in 10,159 total calls taken, with 1,315 suicide-related, for the remainder of the year. In 2021, the number further increased to 21,468 total calls with 7,617 suicide-related while in 2022, total calls reached 18,011 with 6,853 suicide-related.
“When you dial the NCMH #1553 hotline, which you can call for free using a landline, you will be answered by responders equipped in crisis management and giving multiple psychological interventions such as psychological first aid. They have also been trained in suicide assessment intervention by Living Works Australia, one of the pioneers of suicide care,” said Argamosa.
“Those with suicidal thoughts are placed in our second level of care which is the tele-mental health system. This requires registration after which they will be seen within 24 hours by another health professional from our crisis hotline or a guidance counselor.”
Individuals who are suicidal and experiencing auditory hallucinations are referred to NCMH’s outpatient section with its e-konsultasyon program for an option to be treated and prescribed medications via video conference. The NCMH hotline is also equipped with a directory of other hospitals for referrals.
“Crisis is a state when your coping mechanisms have failed. It does not necessarily mean that you have a disorder. The important thing is to get people out of that crisis state and back to being able to manage anxieties and stressful situations. You have to shake them off that crisis state because if you don’t that is when they think of suicide, harming themselves or even hurting other people,” explained Argamosa.
This underscores the far-reaching benefits of the NCMH crisis hotline. One that is backed by digital technology to ensure a nationwide reach and ably facilitate the delivery of needed mental health interventions to service users who consider the initiative to be a lifesaver.
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