11525 Help Line of Mazi Gia to Paidi is There for Greek Families Under Stress
August 3, 2020
When parents in Greece dial the 11525 Helpline that is part of the Mazi Gia to Paidi organization, they know they will be helped by dedicated and caring professionals who will protect their anonymity, which as important as the experience and professionalism families can rely on because there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues and child abuse cases are complicated in close-knit communities where everyone knows everyone else.
The call center, which offers psychological support to families and children in need, is located in Athens. There are four permanent staff members working the Helpline in 9-5 shifts Monday to Friday – usually, two are on duty at the same time – and they have about 25 volunteers, all certified professionals, who also help.
Some remarkable philanthropic institutions have emerged in Greece in recent years. Among those The Hellenic Initiative is honored to support and work with is Mazi Gia to Paidi, a name which can be translated as ‘Together – for the child’, and which reflects the vital function it performs as an umbrella organization enables helps like-minded groups do the most for people in need, especially children. Founded in Greece in 1996, it is an association of non-profit NGOs that work in the field of child welfare and is managed by a Board of Directors composed of representatives of each member-organization.
The Helpline was born in 2009 partly because of the support needed by many families under stress due to the Greek economic crisis but also because the time was ripe to take action regarding child abuse. With the organization being able to communicate with prosecutors, incidents could be reported anonymously. “We can protect the people that way,” said Alexandra Papacosta, Senior Psychologist – Psychotherapist, who is one of the people who answer the urgent calls.
Such endeavors succeed and truly help others when they can deploy dedicated and gifted individuals as part of exceptional teams. Alexandra works with fulltime staffers psychologist-psychotherapists Maria Alexiadou and Naya Sourvinou and social worker- psychotherapist Nikos Giotas.
Alexandra is Half Greek, half British. She was born and raised in Greece and studied psychology in England before returning to Greece. Always empathic and in tune with feelings growing up as an only-child, by around age 25 she dedicated herself to family and systemic psychotherapy, believing that was the best way she could help others.
“After volunteering at the oncology department at Phaidon University Hospital Aghia Sophia – books could only take you so far and I wanted to learn more – it became clear to me that the whole family system needs support,” not just a given child.
In her experience, children express “the symptom” of the family issues, so if you don’t provide support the parents and the whole network of the child, you can’t get much done.”
She joined the Helpline six years ago when they were expanding into a face-to-face counselling center where people can quickly get free help – “unlike at government facilities, we don’t have a waiting list.”
The Helpline began in 2009 and has evolved through time. “Anybody can call from anywhere in Greece. That’s important because in many places you can’t receive mental health help … People can pick up the phone and talk to us anonymously and freely.”
The anonymity is vital because with abuse cases, as she said, “reaching out for help is not a good idea when everybody talks amongst themselves,” for example, child abuse cases where the psychologist and the police officer and the family members are all friends and relatives. The mission appealed to her, and she also valued the sociological insights she gained from the experience. “I saw how things work in close communities.”
Beyond extreme cases, however, the Helpline is valued by families because they can receive guidance about raising healthy families. Many of the calls help parents and children navigate adolescence, with issues ranging from too much time on the internet to relationships and bullying.
Community outreach is very important, and in Athens, they host parent groups and psychoeducational seminars.
It is interesting to note that before the Coronovirus hit they were making plans to expand their online operations, but as has been the case for all kinds of entities worldwide, the pandemic increased that need and accelerated the process.
Sadly, another process speeded up by the virus is the breakup of families. “Compared to last year, in a three-month period, there was a 100% increase in divorces.”
While they don’t offer marriage counselling, the group is able to give advice to parents asking how they could better cooperate with each other for the good of the children despite the often-difficult divorce process in matters like how to best break the news to the child.
Asked about how she and her colleagues feel about their work, Alexandra’s voice took on a more emotional tone.
“It’s important. These people have tremendous needs, but it’s important to be able to act anonymously for their safety.” Greek families have generally become modernized, but in many respects, they are lagging in development, and Alexandra reiterated that to help children, you have to help parents too – at that point, she noted the other organizations of Mazi Gia to Paidi that provide more general social services and support with which the Helpline works. “We also cooperate with many outside organizations,” including the Church of Greece, “in order to support families through social services, to help them meet basic needs.”
Awareness is a crucial part of what must be done and the Diaspora can help there, both in terms of helping to fund their outreach efforts and also by communicating with their friends and families about the need to take action and connect with professionals regarding abusive family members.
The work is rewarding but it takes a toll on the professionals. “All these calls and stories about abuse or neglect do touch you at some point. What helps is that the members of the team discuss what they are going through and help each both to better manage the situations they are helping with and to help colleagues to decompress.”
Alexandra said they are moving forward with improving community outreach in other parts of Greece, especially to the islands, and generally helping individuals and families that can’t come to Athens.
The Helpline relies on private donations, receiving no support from the Greek government or the EU.