‘Unexpectedly long waiting times make it more miserable for those willing to call the helplines’.
New Delhi: Alarming mental health condition of the young population is reflected in the rising suicide rates. The significance of suicide prevention helpline numbers cannot be underestimated, especially given the trend toward increasing numbers. Unfortunately, a lot of suicide prevention helplines are unreachable, which prevents the person in need of assistance from receiving any short-term comfort. So, impulsive action results in a severe outcome.
The Sunday Guardian called a number of suicide prevention helplines and found that while some of the helplines were responsive, and they occasionally suggested contacting a local therapist, others were utterly unresponsive, and this correspondent was compelled to wait for longer than expected. For instance, when this correspondent called Voice That Cares, no one picked up the call and it ended after a while. Sneha Foundation, a Chennai-based NGO, initially kept this correspondent on hold for a long time without any response. Later, an official response from Sneha Foundation was: “If the line is busy, please do try reaching us after sometime. It is possible that the line is engaged.”
The helpline number of the AASRA Foundation was unresponsive. The Sunday Guardian has mailed the organisations seeking information on why the calls were responsive, but has received no official response till the time this story went to press.
Several organisations, such as the Vandrevala Foundation, Lifeline Foundation, iCall (TISS), and others, on the other hand, were responsive. However, because the calls are recorded, most people feel as if their privacy is being violated and hesitate to call the helplines. The unexpectedly long waiting times make it even more miserable for those who are willing to call the helplines. This correspondent spoke to the founder of Arpita Foundation, Patrick Vaz, to understand the reason behind the poor functioning of the helpline numbers. He said, “Due to a lack of resources and funding from the government, the organisation running suicide prevention helplines aren’t able to provide qualitative resources and as a result, the training quality of the volunteers are do not provide any relief to anyone.”
Similar experiences have happened with companies providing mental health services like Tatsam. While speaking to this correspondent, a member of Tatsam told this paper, “Initially, we had called many helplines, some calls went unanswered, and some helplines didn’t provide any good services. They may not have enough funding, and as a result, it gets difficult to manage the helplines all the time.” A list of suicide prevention helplines provided by Tatsam showed that out of 10 helplines, only three were responsive, and other helplines kept the caller waiting for longer than expected.
“The risk factors for suicide could be a prior or recent attempt at suicide, communicating a death wish (verbally or in writing), withdrawn behaviour, substance abuse, anxiety symptoms, and internet history or online search on self-harm (conditionally). The helplines are not a replacement for therapy or psychiatric consultation. It is an adjuvant service to the overall suicide prevention strategies,” Dr Paramjeet Singh, Consultant Psychiatrist, PSRI Hospital, told this paper.
Although India is witnessing skyrocketing rates of suicide, the country is yet to formulate any national strategy for suicide prevention. Fortunately, this year, Madhya Pradesh will be the first state to draft a suicide prevention strategy with a team of psychiatrists, researchers, academicians, social workers, and legal experts. The current NCRB report states that Maharashtra has the highest suicide rate, followed by Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh. The major causes are family problems (33.2%) and illness (18.6%). Other factors include the lack of a national suicide prevention strategy, inaccurate media reporting, legal conflicts in suicide interpretation (suicide is frequently viewed as criminalising suicides), and so on. The Lancet Psychiatry publishes a journal, “The national suicide prevention strategy in India: context and considerations for urgent action,” stating that hanging and consuming poisonous pesticides, drug overdose, and self-immolation are some common methods, and the population between 15 and 30 years old is vulnerable.