Life savers at SAHAI

What happens if you don’t see light at the end of the tunnel? You don’t see the tunnel; you only see darkness. You reach around only to clutch at thin air. You seek help and you only see smiling faces that don’t really listen, friendly eyes that don’t really see. You see people around you who seem to be concerned, but don’t know how deep your anguish is; and the deeper you go, the lonelier you feel. You don’t know which way to head; you don’t know if the next step forward, is forward. You’re hopelessly lost, with no hope, no friend, no tomorrow.

I have never stood at the precipice of despair, wanting to end my life. The edge of a cliff, that I want to let go – hoping it would take me to some promised land, where I start a new life – leaving the past behind.

I can barely fathom how lost you can be when you’re looking for someone to listen; to be there and see things from your point of view. Is there someone you can talk to, when you want to take that one step forward into no coming back?

In Bangalore, there is a dedicated suicide helpline that you can call and hope to find a friendly, helpful voice that gives you hope, courage and strength. To take that one step backward, turn around and face life square in the face. And that helpline is called “SAHAI”.

Anita Gracias, a SAHAI volunteer

Anita Gracias, a volunteer with SAHAI. (pic: Ponappa Subbiah)

I was talking to Anita Gracias, a good friend of mine, who also sits by the phone at SAHAI as a trained volunteer, ready to answer the phone and listen – as if someone’s life depended on it. She will then forge a relationship with the voice that cries out for help; and gently take it from darkness, to the light at the end of the tunnel.

There’s a lot of good work they do there, so I requested Anita to answer a few questions that could raise awareness levels among people. Hopefully, this interview will get people to work at SAHAI as volunteers as well.

What exactly is the objective behind the SAHAI Helpline?

The primary objective behind the SAHAI Helpline is to save lives by counseling people who are experiencing any form of mental and / or emotional stress / distress.

How well do you think it has worked over the years?

We have sufficient reason to believe that we have been fairly effective in helping those who have called SAHAI for help.

How were you inspired / moved to join the helpline as a volunteer?

Some years ago, I went through a personal crisis and, as a result of my own experience with feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and depression, I felt motivated and inspired to help others who might be going through a similar crisis in their own lives.

What is it like talking to someone who’s on the brink of disaster?

I find it challenging and at the same time it has been a very humbling experience. I consider it a privilege and an honour to be able to provide someone who’s distressed, with a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, words of empathy and comfort to ease their pain.

Do the sessions have a depressing effect on you?

Yes, on occasions I have felt troubled after a caller has shared his / her problem with me and there have also been times when I’ve wished I had a magic wand that could make people’s problems disappear with a simple wave of my wand ‘just like that’!

Does listening to someone make him / her feel better?

Yes, very much so. When a person is able to share a problem with someone who they feel understands what they’re going through, and is empathetic, it helps to relieve their pain. It’s almost like an emotional load being lightened as a result of having shared it with someone. That is why we always encourage our callers to talk about their problems; “ventilating” has been proved to be therapeutic. It’s important, however for the distressed person to confide in someone who is trustworthy; if not, one could end up having to cope with a new set of problems.

Do you sometimes feel you need to take an active role in a prevention effort?

Based on the nature of the problem, I have taken decisions about whether or not I need to play an active role in helping the caller. But, I have always expressed my willingness to help and only with the prior knowledge and consent of the caller have I stepped in and played an active role. I feel it’s important that I respect my caller’s feelings at all times.

Do you have a written code that stipulates a line that you can’t cross?

We have been taught not to interfere more than is necessary and to consult the caller before we involve others in trying to solve the problem. The caller’s privacy and right to decide is very important and at no stage should we overstep our limits or betray the caller’s confidence or reveal their identity.

Do callers establish a relationship they want to sustain?

It is very common for callers to want to speak to the same volunteer as they feel safer when they deal with one person. This is very similar to patients in a hospital wanting to consult the same doctor each time. I guess this is based on the level of trust that is built up over a period of time between the caller and the SAHAI volunteer.

You probably use an alias on the helpline – is this useful / necessary?

We are all encouraged to use an alias when we’re on the helpline as there is a need for us to protect our privacy and personal identity. One often comes across callers who want to know a volunteer’s real name and contact details, so that they can keep in touch with you even when we’re not on duty at the helpline. However, it’s not advisable to share your personal details with a caller as this could result in other problems.

Just to get an idea of caller profiles, can you give me some broad percentages?

– Students : 40 %
– Older people (men) :10%
– Older people (women) : 10%
– Senior citizens : 10%
– Younger people (working, married etc.) : 30%

(These are approximate values, to give you a rough overview of caller profiles.)

What are the typical reasons?

When it comes to dealing with a stressful situation, each one of us has a different tolerance level / coping mechanism. What is not a problem for me, could be a major source of stress for someone else. Let me try and list some of the problems that we encounter at our helpline.

– Exams.
– Dowry.
– Parental pressures.
– Loss of job / pressure at the workplace.
– Peer pressures.
– Financial problems.
– Relationship problems.
– Health problems.
– Not being allowed to marry the person of his / her choice.
– Physical Issues – am I normal?
– Personal Problems.
– Sex-related problems / issues.
– Personality-related problems.

What is your advice for people looking at suicide as an “escape route”?

Suicide is a “permanent solution” to what is most likely a “temporary problem” so, we encourage our callers to say “Yes” to Life and we then work with them to deal with the is
sues that are causing them to feel suicidal. It’s not a quick-fix, magic solution that we offer but if we’re able to work with our callers over a period of time, we’re able to help them change the way they look at themselves and others.

Many issues get sorted out when people are able to change the way they view the “problem”. We help our callers to form a support network that they can turn to & rely on for help, & we try to develop their individual problem-solving skills & tolerance levels along with getting them to change their perception & attitude thereby altering the way they perceive the “futile” situation that they see themselves in.

How do readers get more information on SAHAI?

They can get additional information about the SAHAI Helpline from the websites of Medico-Pastoral Association at www.mpa.org.in or SAHAI at www.sahaihelpline.org

How can one become a volunteer at SAHAI?

We are always looking for more volunteers at SAHAI to help us to expand the helpline’s activities in the field of Suicide Prevention. Anyone wishing to become a volunteer at SAHAI will need to undergo training. The Medico-Pastoral Association organises 2-day / 3-day training programmes periodically.

To find out more about our training calendar, you can contact us.

To volunteer at SAHAI, please contact Mrs.Lata Jacob (Tel: 080–25477375, 080–25492934, 080-25497777)
Mail: medicovision@gmail.com

The SAHAI Helpline (080 – 25497777) currently operates from 10 am to 6 pm – Monday to Saturday.

We have 3 shifts per day: 10 am – 1 pm, 1 pm – 3 pm, 3 pm – 6 pm

New volunteers can check the roster and then sign up for one of the available shifts. We encourage our volunteers to try and sign up for a fixed shift every week, as we’ve found that it makes things so much easier for the callers, especially those who look forward to working with the same volunteer on a regular basis.

About Sharath Bhat 4 Articles
Sharath Bhat is a freelance advertising writer based in Bangalore. He blogs at www.indianink.in

3 Comments

  1. Very well written, informative article Sharath. I do hope more people who need help hear about this helpline and reach out. It’s tragic that often, even those close to people who have taken this extreme step have no clue about the agony that has been endured, and the battle that is ultimately lost.

  2. Thank you for the good job you’re doing by writing about such issues. Suicides affect all of us because each time a person commits suicide, a precious life is lost forever! Creating public awareness will go a long way in helping to save more lives. Thank you, Sharath.

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