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The Offered Hand is expanding to English.

Updated: Jan 9, 2023

"Please help" - Expats are searching for anonymous help.

Due to increasing demand, there is now a hotline in English. In addition, figures show: Calls due to fears are increasing strongly.

Anja Burri, 31.12.2022 Originally published in in NZZ Magazine. Translated by The Glocal for English readers.

The woman from Australia was alone in Switzerland when she found out that she had become pregnant unintentionally. She needed someone to talk to about a possible abortion. Finally, she dialed 143. The Dargebotene Hand, Switzerland's telephone counselling service, is increasingly being used by people who do not speak the national language.

Woman, distressed, covering her face wearing brown and orange pullover

These are not only tourists, but also expats or asylum seekers: A man had landed in a hotel and wanted to know what papers were needed to migrate to Switzerland. He also dialled 143, just like the tourist who used his smartphone at Zurich airport to ask the Helpdesk how he could connect to the WLAN, because he urgently needed an internet connection.

The Helpdesk is now responding to this increasing demand. As of this Sunday, it is offering an English-language line. "Even though many of these people have a basic knowledge of a national language, in crisis situations they are not able to talk about their problems in German, French or Italian," says Matthias Herren, project manager of "Heart2Heart", as the new service is called.

In fact, the proportion of residents who declare a non-native language as their main language is growing every year. It is now almost 25 per cent. The most common languages in this group are English and Portuguese.

Matthias Herren of the Offered Hand hopes to reach three target groups with the new service: Expats, people working or studying at a university, and people from the migration sector. "We know that relatives of managers who work for international companies sometimes feel very lonely," says theologian Herren, who has also worked as a pastor. The fact that universities offer their counselling services in English shows that there is a great demand in the field of education. Whether refugees from countries where spying by the state is normal will actually call an anonymous hotline to talk about their problems remains to be seen. The English-language counselling service is being launched as a pilot project and is initially limited until the end of the year.

The demand for trustworthy interlocutors is increasing not only in English, but also in the national languages. The volunteers of the Offered Hand currently conduct about 200,000 conversations per year. Since the beginning of the Corona pandemic, the number of calls has increased by about 5 percent throughout Switzerland. In the German-speaking regions of Switzerland, Zurich and Aargau, the Help Line recorded a further increase of around 10 percent in 2022 alone.

Multiple crisis

Not only the numbers are remarkable, but also the reasons for the calls. "In the Zurich region, we counted around 2600 calls in 2022 in which anxiety was a topic," says Matthias Herren. That is ten times more than in the previous year.

Calls due to mental distress as a whole have also increased since 2019, albeit to a lesser extent. In the Bern region, for example, almost 47 per cent of those seeking help in 2022 called because of mental suffering. Before the pandemic, their share was 39 per cent.

The Offered Hand neither records calls nor keeps precise statistics on the specific content. The reasons for the increase can therefore only be guessed at. "We are in a multiple crisis," says Matthias Herren. The war in Ukraine, climate change, the energy crisis, inflation: all of these can put a strain on even healthy people. "For people who already feel private burdens, at some point everything becomes too much."

The Help Line is anonymous, free of charge and relatively well known: For many people with worries, it is therefore one of the first places they turn to and thus an indicator of the state of society.

Those who call once often do so again. In 2021, over 90 per cent of calls were made to callers who had not dialed 143 for the ¬first time.

Another factor for the many callers with mental health problems, Matthias Herren suspects, is the current shortage of psychiatrists. People who can't get an appointment with a specialist quickly enough, or who don't feel they can get one quickly enough, turn to the telephone.

Erich Seifritz is Director of the Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich and President of the Swiss Mental Healthcare Association. He also says that the "Dargebotene Hand" is an important contact point for people in crisis situations: "Scientific studies have shown that conversations with lay people can help in psychological crisis situations. "A significant effective factor in alleviating mental problems is human empathic relationship, and this can be offered very well by the Offered Hand."

Children and the elderly

The impact of the Corona pandemic has also been felt in psychiatry, but not in all age groups, but in children and adolescents as well as the elderly, says Seifritz. In these age groups, the demand for inpatient and outpatient treatment places has increased, he says. "In general, based on international epidemiological studies, it can be said that severe mental illnesses have rather not increased in the last decades, but that milder disorders seem to become more frequent."

Erich Seifritz also expects that psychiatry in Switzerland will be increasingly confronted with trauma-related illnesses of refugees from war zones. Due to cultural differences, however, these are difficult to recognise. There is a large number of unreported cases.

Whatever you're going through, Heart2Heart is there for you.

Crisis Support in English, anonymous and free of charge.

Tel 0800 143 000

This article has be translated and published here to assist English readers access information in Switzerland. The Glocal does not claim any ownership or intellectual property rights over any information, text or imagery published in this blog post.

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