Crisis hotline faces overload / 20,000 calls received each day by call center set up after earthquake"Tomoko Endo, secretariat chief of the support center, said: "I'm sure there are many other people who have serious problems. I want the government to expand this kind of support system."
A government-subsidized free telephone consultation service that started in March in response to growing social problems after the Great East Japan Earthquake is being overwhelmed, it has been learned.
Calls from people with various worries have surpassed the hotline's capacity. This reflects the severity of the current social climate, as the hotline takes many calls about serious concerns such as "I want to die" and "I haven't eaten anything for five days."
The around-the-clock service, named "Yorisoi (staying together) Hotline," is operated by the Shakaiteki Hosetsu (social inclusion) Support Center, a general incorporated association based in Tokyo.
As a support service that accepts calls about issues such as poverty, unemployment and bullying, the hotline has become a well-known resource. About 20,000 calls are received each day but only about 1,200 of them are connected.
At each of the hotline's 38 call centers located throughout the nation, 30 lines are open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. At other times 10 lines are available. Two consultants are in charge of one line and a total of about 1,200 counseling staff take turns accepting calls.
Local lawyers who have cooperated with the project provide advice when needed. If problems are life-threatening, support staff from welfare organizations rush to callers' locations.
As awareness of the hotline spread through word of mouth on the Internet and other means, it became difficult to get through to a consultant. Currently, a call is only connected after 20 attempts on average.
About 70 percent of problems concern everyday issues, with many of the callers in their 30s to 50s. Their problems are mainly about poverty and solitude. Their troubles include "I lost my house after I became unemployed," "There is no point in living" and "I just wanted to talk with someone."
A man in his 30s who lost his job and has applied for welfare called for help, saying, "I have no money and haven't eaten anything for days." The consultant who took his call judged the man was in a life-threatening condition from his worn-out voice. The consultant contacted a support center, which delivered some food to him. The man was grateful, saying, "No one had helped me before even though I consulted some offices."
Twenty percent of consultations are about suicide. A man in his 30s called the hotline at the end of March, saying, "I have prepared a kitchen knife as I intend to kill myself." The man was quoted by a consultant as saying he was a bachelor whose parents had passed away. He had to quit his job due to illness. The consultant listened to his woes for two hours before contacting a support center. A staff member then raced to help the man. The man is now starting to regain his will to live, according to the support center.
Consultations about violence against women and sexual issues each account for 6 percent of calls.
Tomoko Endo, secretariat chief of the support center, said: "I'm sure there are many other people who have serious problems. I want the government to expand this kind of support system."
The center started the hotline service in Sendai in October last year. The hotline was chosen as an assistance project by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, which aims to help people solve their problems when facing difficulties. After receiving subsidies of around 2.1 billion yen from the government, the hotline service has expanded nationwide.