“I think my child may be using drugs. How should I handle it?» «I am 14 years old and feel that my parents don’t understand me. What should I do?» «I am a teacher and one of my students has been skipping a lot of classes. What could be the problem?» These are but some of the questions the public is directing to a new help line, 1177, set up to counsel children and teenagers, as well as adults who are experiencing communication problems with them. The help line, which has been set up by the Association for the Social and Mental Welfare of Children and Teenagers (EPSYPE), was launched earlier this month, and while it is focused mainly on counseling it can also take on an interventionist role if necessary. The help line is run by experienced professionals in the field of mental health, such as child psychologists, clinical psychiatrists, social workers, and other specialized staff, who listen to callers’ problems, advise them on the most appropriate approach to take, or refer them to more specialized services. They have also been given the authority to conduct personal consultations with troubled callers. The cost is the same as that for a local phone call – the service itself is free of charge – while callers can also request anonymity. The 1177 help line is aimed at children and teenagers who need to talk to someone and are seeking advice, as well as at parents who are having trouble communicating with their children, or teachers facing a particular problem which they feel unequipped to deal with. «In general, help lines are considered a necessary part of the mental healthcare network for children, teenagers and their parents, but they are also very important in prevention,» explains Ioannis Tsiandis, associate professor of child psychology and the scientific director of EPSYPE. The 1177 help line aims, more broadly, to have a preventive character by identifying any mental health problems at their early stages, forming an information network and providing the capability of referring the more difficult cases to specialized social services, explains Sofia Vgenopoulou, the child psychologist who is in charge of the service. The information received through the help line will also form a solid (and, of course, anonymous) basis for a data bank to study the mental health of children and teenagers in the country – an area for which data is sorely lacking. At the press presentation of the help line earlier in the month, Giorgos Moschos, who is in charge of the children’s rights department of the Greek Ombudsman, noted that «from the visits we [the Greek Ombudsman] have conducted to schools, we often observed that children do not talk to their parents and they do not feel that their problems can be solved by an adult.» Stressing the important role that help lines can play, he added that «help lines usually come in to cover the shortcomings of the state apparatus for certain services, but this does not mean that social services, especially in the periphery, where they are understaffed, should relax their guard.» Most of those seeking help are girls Telephone hotlines began in the US and have been slow to spread in Europe, according to child psychologist Evgenia Soumaki, who heads the Greek Child Psychiatrists’ Association. Experience gained in the US has allowed some conclusions to be drawn as to the main reasons why someone (child or adult) would resort to a help line. Twenty percent of calls have to do with physical or sexual abuse. The remaining 80 percent concern children infected with AIDS, difficulties in relationships with parents or with other children, and teenagers who want to commit suicide or who are facing difficulties on leaving school. In 85 percent of cases it is the child itself who calls; 82 percent are girls. The new phone line (1177) is staffed from 9 a.m. to 8.30 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. on Saturdays. The hours were set on the basis of a survey showing most calls come between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and 5 and 8 p.m.