With the dates for the NEET exams being confirmed for the 13 September 2020, the immense struggle students are facing across the country is once again making national news.
Sadly it took a tragic case to bring issue into sharp focus. A 19-year-old from Coimbatore, who failed NEET last year and was preparing full time for this year’s examinations, took her own life on 19 August. According to reports, she was overwhelmed by the news that NEET would be held this year, despite the global pandemic.
Her case is not unique. Over the years, students across the country have been experiencing severe mental trauma due to examinations.
Things have only gotten worse since the lockdown. And it’s not just students who have been affected by the pandemic.
Working professionals have also been badly hit. Take Clint Thomas, a Bengaluru-based engineer. With his work environment becoming too toxic, he quit his job in May. The pandemic made it difficult for him to find another job and he began experiencing anxiety attacks. The struggle to meet his expenses, the constant rejection from companies made him feel unworthy. Soon, anxiety reached its pinnacle when he began losing purpose in life.
“By the beginning of June, I was having constant suicidal thoughts. That’s when I decided to reach out to a suicide emergency helpline number. After several attempts at more than three numbers, I gave up and called my friend,” explains the 27-year-old, who worked in an IT firm.
Though Clint has now started seeing a therapist and is in a better place mentally, several others like him turned to suicide helpline numbers in their moment of need during this pandemic only to be told that the helplines have been discontinued or were available only at given timings.
This writer tried reaching out to suicide helplines across India, of which only two were responsive. The other four had either been discontinued due to COVID-19 or were unserviceable.
In this article, we have talked to various stakeholders to find out what is happening at the other end of the call. How are helpline operators equipped to handle the caller in need and why are they needed now more than ever?
Helplines: Extending a Helping Hand
Roshni is a voluntary organisation based in Telangana, which extends support to the depressed and suicidal by providing free and confidential service. The NGO is a member of the Befrienders Worldwide, a UN-recognised international organisation and has almost 700 member centres across the world.
The Better India (TBI) spoke to Ushasree, the present Director of Roshni in Telangana on how the organisation has been providing training to volunteers and the importance of being available, especially with a pandemic in force.
“Each person who contacts us on our helpline numbers has a unique problem with the common thread being the need for a fellow human being who can listen and understand them. Our organisation is completely voluntary and for the same reason our services are from 9 am to 11 pm but all our volunteers undergo training before attending these calls, where they are given clear instructions as to how to deal with a caller as well as create a calm and non-judgemental space,” she explains.
“In case of a person who calls outside our working hours, they are immediately redirected to Sneha Suicide Prevention Helpline based in Chennai which functions round the clock,” she adds.
According to the statistics from Save.org, almost a quarter of a million people are suicide survivors in the world as a result of intervention from family, friends and helpline numbers.
“We have been working remotely after the pandemic started and we’ve seen a rise in the number of calls as a result of it as well. In the place of 20 calls a day, we have started receiving 40-45 calls because of the distress and isolation people are experiencing as a result of the lockdown,” Ushasree explains.
Bengaluru-based psychotherapist Priyanka Kuppasamy also pointed out that several of these helpline numbers fail to function at times due to several technical issues as well.
“Most of these bulk calls go through an internet domain and there we experience certain connectivity issues and this is a problem that is faced constantly,” she explains.
“The volunteers who work at these helplines should be trained counsellors or psychologists who are supervised as well. They will be dealing with stressful situations so they must undergo supervision every week to discuss the kind of calls they receive and these volunteers must also undergo a therapy session as well. This is an important point that several of the NGOs running these helpline numbers miss out on,” she adds.
In wake of Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide, topics of mental health and suicide prevention have been doing the rounds among netizens but a clear cut solution to the problem is often missing.
“Several people don’t feel like sharing their suicidal thoughts with people they don’t know. In such cases, it is best if the person has the liberty to call up their psychologist or therapists who will mostly have an emergency suicide prevention plan for their client. So when you know someone who is going through depression or has suicidal tendencies, encourage them to seek professional help,” says Layah Liz Jacob, a Bengaluru-based PhD scholar in clinical psychology.
“Last year on 16 May, I was on the verge of committing suicide after months of torture from my then partner I was living with. I was constantly abused by him and didn’t know how to come out of that relationship. At that point in time, I had cut off from my friends and family and didn’t want to approach any of them for help. I finally reached out to the Sneha suicide prevention helpline based in Chennai. They were very responsive and made me feel safe and created a comfortable environment to speak out. They were also helpful in redirecting me to several therapists in my area and even followed up for the next two days to make sure I was okay. That call saved my life,” says 26-year-old Aparna Mohan* from Chennai.
The important thing to remember in such dark times is that you are never alone. There are always people who are willing to listen to you. All you have to do is to dial a number.
Here’s a list of suicide prevention helplines that are functioning amidst the pandemic:
Mumbai: I Call – 022-25521111 (Monday to Saturday, 8 am to 10 pm)
Telangana: Roshini (040-66202000) – 9AM – 11 PM
Tamil Nadu: Sneha – 044-24640059 – 24 X 7
*Name changed to protect privacy.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)