Special Correspondent

KOLKATA: Every day 20-25 suicidal or emotionally distressed callers contact the “Lifeline Foundation” here seeking advice or to be “just listened to” between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. from Monday to Saturday. It was no different on Monday, observed across the world as World Suicide Prevention Day.

West Bengal is among the States which have one of the highest suicide rates in the country. “There was even a report in a local English daily, attributed to the National Crime Records Bureau 2005, that it has overtaken all others in this regard,” Director of the centre Suksham Singh told The Hindu.

The callers are anonymous, mostly aged between 20 and 45, more men than women. The “Lifeline Foundation” has 13 centres across the country and the suicide prevention centre in the city, set up 11years ago, has 38 trained volunteers who receive distress calls, some lasting several hours, says Ms. Singh.

“The centre seeks to alleviate misery, loneliness, despair and depression by listening, without being judgmental, to those who cannot turn to anyone else who might understand and accept them.”

Closed-circuit television sets at the city Metro railway stations send out eight or nine times a day the message of helpline services being provided by the centre. Suicide bids by people jumping in front of trains are not unheard of at these stations.

The Kolkata police have arranged a facility for the centre’s volunteers to meet face-to-face with those who want to discuss their emotional problems. However, “We encourage such interactions over the telephone as we feel that the caller will be more comfortable concealing his or her identity,” Ms Singh said.

The Foundation plans to seek the assistance of the State Social Welfare department for identifying groups from rural areas who speak the local language and who could be trained in listening to and counselling the distressed. “Nearly 90 per cent of the suicide cases are reported from the districts.”

A project is also being planned to set up “family-support-groups” where those whose dear ones have committed suicide could find a bond, rather than suffer in isolation.