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The phone call that can save a life

K.C. Deepika
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When a person is contemplating that extreme step, there is one object that stands between the perpetrator and the means: the telephone. One phone call is all it takes in some cases of suicide to save a precious life. For this, there are a handful of helplines dedicated to becoming that vital link. Lack of communication channels is touted as being an important factor influencing suicides, which is where helplines step in.

As Malini Sridhar, Executive Director of Parivartan Counselling, Training and Research Centre — whose helpline deals with adolescents and children — says, providing response to children in distress is extremely important as they get some clarity before taking the plunge.

Caller profile

Across helplines, the average profile of frequent callers appears to be similar — youngsters faced with examination-related jitters or those with relationship problems, adults (both grooms and brides-to-be, and their parents), those with marital problems and senior citizens tired of being alone and lonely.

Anita Gracias, counsellor with SAHAI, said that those who actually make the phone call are those “who don't want to live or die”. “They can be called the living dead. They need help and don't want to die. Otherwise, they wouldn't be calling,” she explained.

Another SAHAI volunteer said there are all kinds of callers. Some never call the second time, some make persistent calls. The helpline get about four or five calls each day. However, there is something different about the spree of suicides taking place of late, says the volunteer. “These are people who are determined to end their lives. They don't want to talk to anyone and have made up their mind,” the volunteer said.

Asked if it is only the educated class that takes help from these phone lines, Ms. Gracias pointed out that by word of mouth, even those from the other side of the divide were beginning to wake up to this avenue of help.

There are problems

One of the questions that arise is how long should helplines work? Should they be functioning round the clock? For instance, the SAHAI helpline words only between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Who should those in distress turn to beyond these “working hours”?

Ms. Sridhar from Parivarthan said that they were forced to change work hours from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. instead of the earlier 7 p.m. deadline as more children said that they wanted to talk to someone after schoolwork.

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