When TOI called iCall, a helpline run by the school of ecology, Tata Institute of Sciences, KIRAN run by the ministry for social justice and empowerment, and the psychosocial support and mental health services helpline run by National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences at different times throughout the week from Pune, the call either did not connect, or abruptly dropped after being put on hold following a tedious IVR process.
A 27-year-old designer said this has been the situation for several years. She said that whenever she has tried to call an all-India suicide prevention helpline, she has not got through and had to seek help from other sources.
When contacted, the ministry for social justice and empowerment officials said they were unaware of such issues. An employee, who wished to be unnamed, said, “There may be no volunteers, or it could be a network issue. We have been notified about calls not getting connected by some service providers and we get it fixed through the technical maintenance team.”
More volunteers can make helplines work better: NGOs
A representative of Chennai-based NikMed Medical Technologies, in-charge of the technical maintenance of KIRAN Helpline, said, “This is the first time we have been intimated about such issues, we will look into the problem.”
When TOI called the city-based helpline run by Connecting Trust, the call went to a volunteer without having to go through an IVR process or being put on hold.
Shweta Tiwari, head of training at this NGO, said when a person is distressed, going through the IVR process further aggravates their state, so connecting with a volunteer is their priority and collecting data is done in an automated way to keep the caller anonymous and not disturb their interaction with the volunteer.
“Many of our callers have told us that they could not get through to other helplines before calling us. We may miss calls due to high volumes, but we have a system that allows us to analyze it and take steps to accommodate more calls during peak times,” she added.
While the exam season and vacation time from February to July end-August records the highest volume of calls to their helpline, festive months from Ganesh Chaturthi to Diwali see the lowest number of calls from citizens to the Connecting Trust helpline.
“Currently, we have 40-45 volunteers, but to handle the volume of calls from students at this time of the year, and for our awareness programmes, we need at least 150 volunteers,” Tiwari added.
Foram Matalia, psychologist and CBT therapist at Bhatia Hospital, said suicide helplines are meant to provide rapid access to counselling support that could help stop a person from acting on their suicidal thoughts.
She added that an alternative method to reduce or contain the current suicide rate in India is necessary. “The government needs to seriously look at making more resources available to help and support people in suicidal crisis,” she added.
Mental health experts say that with the suicide rate in India rising, planning and implementation of facilities for emergency mental health care are needed.