Health Minister Robin Swann visited the Lifeline team based in North Belfast to thank them for the vital work they are doing to support those experiencing emotional crisis and at risk of suicide.
Lifeline is a confidential telephone helpline staffed by professional counsellors who have received training in risk assessment, trauma, recovery, adolescent development and telephone counselling.
The service is available 24/7 and calls to the helpline are free. People can contact Lifeline on 0808 808 8000 and deaf or hard of hearing Textphone users can call 18001 0808 808 8000.
Speaking following the visit, Minister Swann said: "The work of the Lifeline team is absolutely vital and I was privileged to visit the services and personally thank them for everything they do. The COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely difficult for many people and the impact on emotional wellbeing and mental health will continue to be felt for many years to come.
"Lifeline ensures that those in need and in crisis can get the help they need. Callers to the confidential helpline are supported by trained counsellors."
"I have no doubt the service will remain at the forefront of crisis services as we implement the Regional Mental health Crisis Service."
The Lifeline service is funded by the Public Health Agency (PHA) and the contract has been managed by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust since 2018. There are currently 53 counsellors, based between Lifeline's Belfast office and Lifeline's office in the North West Business complex in Londonderry.
Lifeline also provides support and guidance to families and carers, concerned friends, professionals, teachers, youth workers, clergy and communities.
John Hand, Service Manager for Lifeline said: "Lifeline staff and counsellors appreciated the recognition given to their work during the visit by Minister Swann. Like many front-line staff, Lifeline counsellors supported those in distress and despair during the challenging time of the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to do so, providing the right support at the right time for people of all ages from across Northern Ireland."
Andrew Dougal, Chair of the Public Health Agency said: "As commissioners of the Lifeline service, the PHA continues to recognise the important role the Lifeline service has in providing timely, accessible de-escalation for individuals in emotional distress and despair. We would like to extend our thanks to the staff for their role in supporting callers to the Service which is a key element of Northern Ireland's Protect Life 2 Strategy."
Moira Kearney, Interim Director of Mental Health, Intellectual Disability and Psychological Services at Belfast Health and Social Care Trust said: "Lifeline counsellors provide a vital service for those finding it hard to deal with difficult and sometimes overwhelming personal circumstances. They listen without judgement to anyone who is struggling with trauma, thoughts of suicide, self-harm, depression and anxiety. Anyone who needs help can speak freely about what is troubling them. Our counsellors give advice and support to family members, carers, concerned friends and members of the public. They are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and we would encourage anyone who needs help to call immediately."
Recognising the commitment of the team, Minister Swann said: "I want to pay tribute to the Lifeline team who are dedicated to supporting those experiencing emotional crisis. I have been very impressed at the efforts the service has made to reach out to communities over recent months and the service is very visible and recognised."