Airtel and NIMH launches Sri Lanka’s first mental health chatline

(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) – Sri Lanka now has its own text-based helpline for those facing emotional and mental distress. Airtel Lanka together, with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), launched the text-based platform 1926, a dedicated helpline to encourage an open culture around mental health.

The service is free for Airtel customers and is also accessible for users of other mobile networks. In times of need, a user only has to send a simple text message to 1926, and this will be responded immediately by a mental health specialist from NIMH.

The chat line will go live on 10thof October in commemoration of World Mental Health Day 2020, connecting users to professional counsellors who are available in English, Sinhala, and Tamil languages. The 1926 text-based helpline by Airtel hopes to encourage more young people to reach out to professionals, particularly when they are experiencing times of crisis and may require guidance in mitigating their mental health concerns in a safe and anonymous environment.

Connecting to the launch over Airtel Blue Jeans, CEO and Managing Director, Ashish Chandra said, “Digital technologies are transforming learning, socializing and communication among youth. Our brand is heavily engaged with young Sri Lankans and we are very much aware that they prefer to use digital platforms to engage and find solutions. At Airtel, we are always looking at ways to create meaningful connections for our customers by blending technology with human needs and this is one such initiative.”

Speaking at the event, Dr.PushpaRanasinghe, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, NIMH said, “With the introduction of the 1926 voice-based hotline in 2018, there has been a gradual increase in the number of people, proactively seeking help to cope with anxiety, depression, stress, and other mental health concerns and directing them to the closest help center.”

She further added, “Mobile phones and text messaging, in particular, have rapidly become the preferred communication tool among the youth, creating a culture connected to its phones. As healthcare professionals, our dependency on technology is now important than ever before. And as a result of its advancements, we can find improved ways of being accessible to those who need help. We are thankful to Airtel for helping us evolve 1926 from a voice to a text-based helpline.”

The event concluded with a panel discussion on addressing mental health for all through greater investments and access. The session was moderated by mental health advocate Shanuki De Alwis featuring,Dr.PushpaRanasinghe – Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, National Institute of Mental Health, NivendraUduman – Psychologist, and KanishkaRanaweera – Head of HR, Airtel Lanka.

The NIMH established the ‘1926’ phone hotline in 2018 as part of a concerte effort to address legitimate concerns around the growing public health issues, to provide those in mental or emotional distress to seek assistance.

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