Jacintha Saldanha, a 46-year-old nurse with a loving husband and two loving teenage children, hanged herself in London some time ago. This desperate act brought to an end a life that suddenly became unlivable because a couple of DJs in Australia had played a prank on her. And because this prank involved the British Royal Family, the humiliation to the victim seemed unbearable, and she decided to end her life.

But suicide is really a state of mind. The ability to reason and look beyond will be lost when the mind is so distraught. And suicide is committed when the mind is in such a state. But no state of mind is permanent. Thoughts and feelings keep changing, and so do situations. And when the feeling of desperation is gone, sanity steps in.

Suicide is sometimes referred to as a “selfish” act. For, when the all-encompassing thought is one of self-destruction, nothing else enters the mind. The act itself follows a feeling of desperation in which everything that is outside or beyond this emotion is lost sight of.

Given time, the intensity of the emotion subsides and the rational side of the mind starts asserting itself. And, then, the person contemplating this extreme step can go beyond the problem he or she is facing and will be able to think of those who are closely related to him or her. There are fathers and mothers, or husbands and wives, and children to think of. The “suicidee” is dead but what about those he/she loves? What will their lives be like? The thoughts of the person committing suicide do not go so far.

Anyone contemplating suicide, no matter what the precipitating factors are, should avoid acting on impulse and seek help. There are agencies offering voluntary help to such people, and this is available at their centres or on phone 24 hours a day. In London itself, where Jacintha’s tragedy occurred, there are the London Samaritans who have helped so many people over the years. This organisation was founded just after World War II, when there were so many disrupted homes, and people in despair had no one to turn to for help.

The founder was Reverend Chad Varah, who was called upon to conduct the funeral services of a 15-year-old girl. The girl had just attained puberty, and when she started menstruating, she thought she had a dreadful disease, and there was no one around with whom she could talk about such an intimate matter. In a state of utter despair, she committed suicide. At her funeral, Chad Varah was the most distressed by her action and he felt that there must be so many people like her who had no one to talk to. And the idea came to him to start an organisation where people in distress could talk in confidence to someone who would be able to listen with empathy and offer some help.

The London Samaritans was started in a bombed out church in south London, whose telephone line was still intact. When calls started pouring in from people in despair, in response to an advertisement that he had put in newspapers, Reverend Chad Varah realised that he could not tackle this massive problem on his own. So he advertised for volunteers. And the response he got was beyond his belief.

Today, there are many such organisations all over the world, all secular. They might go by different names but their aims are the same, namely, to be supportive of those who are in despair. Their volunteers are chosen not for their qualifications but for their qualities of empathy and non-judgmental listening. They go through training sessions and attend workshops and seminars so that they can be well equipped for the kind of work they have chosen to do to help the society in which they live. Such volunteers are even prepared to keep a 24-hour watch on those who they feel are suicidally inclined.

All these organisations have on their panel psychiatrists, to whom some cases can be referred. Some have a psychiatrist on their pay-roll, who will be present on the premises during the day and can be easily reached at night also. The volunteers do not prescribe medicines as they are not qualified to do so. But if a ‘client’ needs medication, he is referred to a psychiatrist. Along with the medication, counselling is continued at the centre. The volunteers offer their time and services free, and they get immense psychological satisfaction from their work.

No amount of money can compare with the feeling a volunteer gets when an ex-client tells him or her, “You are my saviour; you gave me a new life.”

(The writer’s e-mail: spalit_2007@rediffmail.com)

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