KABUL -- A phone line to provide youth counseling, established a decade ago, is still helping young Afghans grappling with mental health issues.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in 2012 provided financial and technical assistance to set up Youth Health Line 120 to help Afghan youth who cannot share their problems directly with psychologists or physicians.
The phone line is reachable by dialing 120 from any network in Afghanistan for free.
HealthNet TPO, an international non-governmental organisation, manages the phone line.
"The purpose of establishing the 120 help line centre is to empower youth from the perspective of health, psychological and reproductive health issues," Dr. Wahid Noori, who oversees the phone line, told Salaam Times.
The phone line allows young Afghans "to share their mental problems and concerns easily and free of charge with a doctor or psychologist from their homes", which would otherwise be difficult "because of cultural and social constraints", Noori said.
"While the number of employees of the centre fluctuates depending on the circumstances, seven male and seven female specialists currently work at the centre," he said.
The number of callers is growing every day and month, Noori said.
Over the past month, the phone line registered 90,888 calls from all over the country. The callers were 41,457 men and 49,431 women, he added.
The centre is open 60 hours a week and operates in two shifts -- from 8.00am to 3.00pm and from 3.00pm to 8.00pm, Noori said.
"The majority of the youth calling the centre have sexual, mental health, reproductive health, and domestic violence problems," he noted.
Benefits of the help line
The help line is very effective given the problems the youth are facing, according to Mohammad Naser Habibi, a Kabul University psychologist.
"Afghanistan is in a very bad situation right now when it comes to psychological issues," he told Salaam Times.
"Assessments show that Afghanistan is one of the saddest countries in the world," Habibi said. "The economic situation has affected the psyche of members of society, and the level of despair is rising day by day."
"Mental health is severely affected," he added. "In the current situation, there is no better option than strengthening psychological support."
"The centre's budget depends on the level of activities, so every year's budget is different. If we have more calls and more services rendered, the expenses also increase, and vice versa," said Abdul Rahman Zaem, UNFPA's Afghanistan spokesperson, told Salaam Times, without providing precise numbers.
"In any case, the budget is covered and there are no limitations in the budget," he added.