Roshini: A helpline and bright lifeline for those in a dark mental state

If you or someone you know is suicidal, please reach out to a mental health specialist or contact helpline numbers that can offer support.

ByDeepika Pasham

Published Sep 10, 2023 | 12:00 PMUpdatedSep 10, 2023 | 12:00 PM

Roshini: Trained volunteers who can offer an empathetic ear can make a difference to those with thoughts of suicide. (Commons)

In a world where the power of a heart-to-heart conversation is often underestimated, Roshini — a group of compassionate volunteers in Telangana — is proof that talking and listening can be powerful tools in the healing process.

Every day, they receive at least 30 calls on their helpline numbers 81420 20033 and 81420 20044, 10 of which are from people with suicidal intentions, three to five calls from people with actual suicide plans, and around 15 from people feeling disturbed or depressed.

Roshini is a member of Befrienders Worldwide, an international organisation recognised by the United Nations that collates helpline numbers from around the world.

The power of Roshini 

The calls are from individuals facing a myriad challenging situations — from a young girl dangerously close to a railway track, to a helpless man standing on the 7th floor of a building, to a professor seeking solace in an empty room.

While the scenarios may vary, Roshini offers hope and compassion with every call they receive.

In fact, callers from across Mumbai, Delhi, the Northeast, Kashmir, West Bengal, and even London, who have contacted Roshini, which based in Hyderabad, have conveyed that they have felt more comfortable talking to these volunteers over others.

Navigating sensitive topics can be challenging, especially when the guidelines strictly prohibit one from asking direct questions like, “Are you feeling suicidal?”

However, these dedicated volunteers have learnt to decipher the unspoken cries for help hidden deep within the words of their callers.

Also Read: Will bringing education back on TN State List end NEET suicides?

With empathy and care

Vidya, a volunteer, tells South First, “A young girl once reached out to us in a distressed state. She mentioned her proximity to railway tracks and the imminent arrival of a train. This was our cue to act swiftly.

“Our conversations with the callers must be concise, so we calmly talk to them and try to convince them to move away, citing reasons like we are unable to hear them. Gradually, they shift to a safer location, marking the first step towards their well-being.”

As these conversations unfold, the volunteers multitask, jotting down crucial details about the caller’s preferences, dislikes, and potential conversation topics that could offer comfort and distraction. The goal is to create a safe and empathetic space where individuals can find solace and regain hope in the face of adversity.

Roshini exemplifies the profound impact that an empathetic ear and a caring heart can have in the darkest moments of life. Their unwavering commitment to saving lives through compassionate communication serves as a beacon of hope for those in crisis.

The volunteers’ longest call was four hours. They have also received calls from the United States, from employees fearing job loss.

Also Read: Father found dead 2 days after NEET aspirant dies by suicide 

Stories that hit hard

One of the volunteers, Nirmala, recalls how she was hit by reality one day at Roshini.

“I am a trained volunteer but I was taken back once when I got a call from a 17-year-old, who had to discontinue studies for months because their mother fell ill and taking care of her was feeling like a burden. The child said that even their school principal had said that a mother is a ‘Kohinoor Diamond’ and care is needed,” she says.

“It is a lot of pressure on a teenager. At that moment, being close to the age of this child’s mother, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through this child’s mind,” she adds.

The team at Roshini ensures that, while the volunteers are performing their duties as compassionate and empathetic support providers, they are also receiving the same from the support system at Roshini to help them cope with the different and difficult stories they hear every day.

“We are allowed only two slots in a week so that us volunteers don’t feel overwhelmed. We discuss our feelings with our seniors and, naturally, after a talk, we try to put it behind us,” the volunteers explain.

Also Read: Postgraduate student ends life in IIT Hyderabad

Endings with closure 

The volunteers at Roshini can track a caller’s situation, if they have been given permission to. Giving us an example of one such situation, Nirmala narrates the story of Mari (name changed), a man who was a Group 1 exam aspirant in Telangana.

“Mari moved from a village to the city. He met a girl here and they liked each other, so they got married. But after marriage, he was being harassed. One day, when two drops of oil spilt on his wife’s hand, he took her to the hospital. However, taking advantage of the situation, his wife lodged complaint of harassment against him and the man was arrested,” recalls Nirmala.

She adds, “Later, when released, the man could not return to his wife, but he was lonely and was deeply missing his child. He felt that he had no choice but to take a difficult decision, but something caused him to call us at the last moment.”

When they followed-up with him later, he said, “Thank you, madam. I am alive now.”

Ah, music to the volunteer’s ear!

Also Read: Mother of student who died by suicide holds college responsible

Parents should be more responsible

These days, young children are being gifted with the latest gadgets by their parents, which was never a scenario you’d see earlier.

However, while conveying to the child that they have complete trust in them, it is also the parents’ responsibility to keep an eye on their usage and also talk to them about it.

Narrating the story behind an incident that occurred in this context, Nirmala says, “There was a girl whom we unfortunately missed as she died by suicide. Her mother had checked the girl’s mobile without her knowledge or information. The child wondered why her mother had suspected her when she did not watch anything wrong.”

It is important for parents to have open conversations and set expectations, rather than do such checks secretly.

Also Read: MBBS student in Telangana dies by suicide; police deny mutilation

Tip: Talk to them, not about them

If an individual is confessing to their parent, teacher, friend, or anybody about their feelings, then the first questions should be: Do you want to talk about it? How do you want to share? How can I help you?

Nirmala says that only the person who is going through it can let us know what needs to be done.

She says, “In a typical scenario, parents ask their child’s friends instead of directly talking to their own child. This is disloyal and, often, the friends go back to seek permission from the child, which will cause them to feel more hurt and depressed.”

So, a gentle and direct check on people feeling lonely and depressed is essential because they don’t want to end themselves, but they want to end the pain.

Also Read: Coimbatore DIG of Police Vijayakumar dies by suicide

Suicide rate in India 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 800,000 people die by suicide worldwide every year. India had the 41st highest suicide rate globally, as of 2019. Russia is ranked 11th, with a suicide rate of 21.6, while the US rate is 14.5.

India's suicide rate. (South First)

India’s suicide rate. (South First)

Based on data collated by an National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report in 2021, 1,64,033 Indians died by suicide in 2021 and the national suicide rate that year was 12 (calculated per hundred thousand or per lakh). This is the highest suicide rate since 1967, which is the earliest recorded year for this data.

Over 13,000 students died in 2021 in India, at the rate of more than 35 every day — a rise of 4.5 percent from the 12,526 deaths in 2020, with 864 out of 10,732 suicides being due to failure in examinations.

The International Association for Suicide Prevention observes World Suicide Prevention Day on 10 September every year, to provide worldwide commitment to action to prevent suicides with various activities around the world.

This year’s theme of “Creating Hope Through Action” urges us to encourage understanding, reach out, and seek help.

(For free, confidential, emotional support at Roshini, call 81420 20033 / 81420 20044. Timings: 11 am to 9 pm – All days.)