Today is celebrated as World Suicide Prevention Day. Nearly one million people worldwide die by suicide each year. This corresponds to one death by suicide every 40 seconds. Isn’t that a staggering number?
As a former volunteer with Samaritans Helpline in Mumbai, I have a deep interest in mental health issues and the problem of loneliness. It is vexing, not having anyone to talk to, whether you are well or not. Helplines serve such an important need – just being there for someone in their hour of despair.
Goa has an incredibly high rate of suicides. The daily newspapers have an average of 1-2 reports every day, and that is not an understatement. For a small state like this, this is a crisis that needs to be resolved. Which is why I was so glad to hear of a new helpline that was launched recently. The COOJ (Cause of Our Joy) helpline 0832-2252525 works Mon-Fri 3pm to 7pm. Volunteers are trained to handle calls and are also fluent in the local language to reach a larger audience.
This news of a new helpline in Goa comes shortly after the announcement that the new Mental Health Bill 2013 was introduced in Parliament last month. One significant point in the Bill is that it seeks to decriminalise acts of suicide by linking them to the state of mental health of the person attempting the act. This should come as a huge relief not only to mental health practitioners but to millions of anonymous Indians who have, at some point, attempted to take their own lives, but survived. If they were taken to hospital, the police get involved and a criminal case is registered against them (adding insult to injury). In many cases, the issue is hushed up, the scandal and stigma too much to bear. And life, the pretence of it, continues.
Once this Bill becomes law, might it be too much to hope that suicide survivors will be treated with compassion? Or that more helplines and counselling centres spring up in our cities and villages? One can only hope. And keep that candle burning.
If you live in a city where there’s a helpline, please consider volunteering. It only takes an hour or two a week of your time and in return, you impact so many lives teetering on the edge. A partial list of suicide prevention helplines in India is here.
Even more important, help publicise helpline numbers. So when someone needs a friendly voice, they don’t have to think twice.