TELL : The Phone Number You Should Know
During a recent trip to Hamamatsu, I tripped and fell on my camera thus crushing my ribs and my 50 mm lens. A few hours later we were in Nagoya and the pain was getting worse so we decided to look for a hospital. The holidays had already started and most hospitals were closed so the only way to find an ER was through a medical information call centre. Pre-occupied with convincing myself that I did not have internal bleeding (tip: do not try to diagnose yourself online), I didn't give it much thought at the time. But afterwards it occurred to me that it had taken my Japanese partner an hour of non-stop conversation about symptoms, health insurance and geography to finally find a hospital that would see us. What on earth would I have done without him? The thought was disconcerting.
English speakers in Japan often have trouble accessing medical care in English, especially in areas outside of Tokyo. They often have to go to the hospital with a Japanese friend or use a translator, which is okay if you have a runny nose. But what happens during a time of crisis, medical or otherwise? What about people dealing with long-term mental health issues in a country where most care seems to be in Japanese?
The Tokyo English Lifeline (Tell) has been around since 1973, supporting the expat community through face-to-face counseling, outreach programmes and an extensive online directory. Most importantly, their trained volunteers provide free, confidential and anonymous phone counseling through the Lifeline 365 days a year.
Mental health is not easy to talk about. Be it depression, stress or culture shock, we often avoid bringing it up until we get can't go on pretending everything is fine. Or sometimes we want to talk about it but nobody around us seems to be listening. The Lifeline is a good solution for both problems: the calls are anonymous and the phone counselors are primarily there to listen, not talk.
You can also use their English directory or the Lifeline to get information about things we usually don't know about until we need them, such as doctors, emergency services or legal resources. Or you can help them by signing up for their telephone counseling training. Tell has been trying to go 24/7 for a while now so they are always looking for more volunteers. They recently expanded to Kansai, thus allowing expats in the area to also get involved.
I have been in Japan for over 4 years and I first heard about their activities a few months ago when, concerned for a friend I did an online search for English-speaking counseling services in Tokyo. When I saw their website I was surprised I'd never heard of the Lifeline before. How on earth did nobody bring it up in 4 years? But that's the thing with mental health, nobody will say to you "Welcome to Japan, here is what you need to know in case things get tough". Well, now you know and you can share the knowledge with your friends. It might be just what they need.
• On Monday, January 25th Tell is presenting a conversation with Kevin Hines. Kevin suffers from bipolar disorder and survived a jump from San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge in 2000. He has written a book about the experience and giving speeches all over the world, telling people they don't have to die that way. For more information about the event visit: http://telljp.com/event/tell-presents-a-conversation-with-kevin-hines/
• The Lifeline is open every day (9 am - 11 pm). You don't have to be suicidal to call, you can talk about anything troubling you. Their number is 03-5774-0992.
• Find out more about services, volunteering and donations here.