Alive, thanks to Aasra --Siraj Syed

Alive, thanks to Aasra --Siraj Syed

Johnson Thomas is a film-critic, and, therefore, a professional colleague. He does not look it, though. Come to think of it, what does a film-critic look like? There are among us men and women, youngsters and senior citizens, those with conventional good looks and those not similarly endowed, the short and the tall, the hirsute and the balding, the bespectacled and the normal (6/6?) ’visionaries’, the frail and the ‘gymmies’... Johnson qualifies as gymmy, with a body that few would dare take on, but he does not stand very tall. Where he stands really tall is the main field in which he works, films getting a second, though very important, billing. 

 

Johnson Thomas, who describes himself as an editor/biographer/film critic/book critic/journalist (dog-owner is not a profession!), is also a Director of Aasra. And if he is glued on to the phone even as he is entering or leaving a theatre, he is not being inconsiderate, but attending a call that has bounced to his personal mobile from Aasra’s choked helpline. Over the next few minutes, he will be trying very hard to help someone who might be contemplating suicide that very moment. Aasra is a suicide prevention, Non-Government Organisation (NGO), doing exceptional work, addressing a gigantic problem that deserves many times more attention than it is getting now.

The word Aasra is derived from aashray/aas, which, looselytranslated from Hindi/Urdu, mean hope/shelter. This Aasra is a crisis intervention centre for the lonely, distressed and suicidal. It is based in Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra, and is a unit of Befrienders Worldwide/Samaritans. It is a non-religious, non-political and non-sectarian organisation, registered as a Public Charity, under the Bombay Charity Act, 1960 (Registration No. E2047). Befrienders Worldwide/Samaritans has been working in the field of crisis intervention, emotional and mental health, since 1960. Aasra is the only help-line in Navi Mumbai, and started functioning from 13 September1998.

The Samaritans was founded in the UK by the Rev. Chad Varah, the then Rector of St. Stephen's Church, London, in 1953. He was motivated to start this service when he read a sermon at the grave of a 13 year old girl who took her life thinking she was "unclean" and bleeding to death. She had no one to talk to; her distress compelled her to decide on this act of self-destruction. Rev. Varah decided to start a "listening service". Centres outside UK are under the umbrella of Befrienders International/Worldwide. As of date there are over 446 such intervention centres throughout the world, in 42 countries, with eleven in India.

Disturbing facts, alarming figures
Every 40 seconds, a life is lost through suicide, according the World Health Organisation (WHO). Estimates suggest that suicide deaths worldwide could rise to 1.5 million, by 2020. Suicide is a largely preventable public health problem, causing almost half of all violent deaths, as well as economic costs, going into billions of dollars, adds WHO

Dr Catherine Le Gals-Camus, WHO Assistant-Director General, Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health, has said: "World-wide, more people die from suicide than from all homicides and wars combined. There is an urgent need for co-ordinated and intensified global action to prevent this needless toll. For every suicide death there are scores of family and friends whose lives are devastated emotionally, socially and economically."

Suicide rates tend to increase with age, but there has recently been an alarming increase in suicidal behaviours amongst young people, aged 15 to 25 years old, worldwide. With the exception of rural China, more men than women commit suicide, although in most places, more women than men attempt suicide. 

Depression among the youth has increased from 2% to 12% in the last five years. Globally, 3 out of every 5 visits to the doctor are for stress-related problems. 76% people under stress say they have sleeping disorders and 58% suffer headaches. 85% of people under stress tend to have strained relations with family and friends. 70% of people under stress say they have become short-tempered. 

A study conducted by National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), the Bengaluru-based University, reveals 36 % techies in Bengaluru show signs of psychiatric disorder. 1 among every 20 IT professionals contemplates suicide, says the study. 27.6% of IT professionals in India are addicted to narcotic drugs, says a NIMHANS study.

Globally, 1 out of every 10 students suffers significant distress. Over 50% of lost workdays across the world are due to stress, finds an International Labour Organisation (ILO) study. 16,000 students in India committed suicide between 2004 and 2008. According to reports, 50% employees in India Inc. are under stress: 30% have problems such as addictions and marital discord, 20% suffer from depression.

Depression is the No. 1 occupational disease of the 21st century, says WHO. 49% of people under stress say they suffer from upset stomach or nausea. 71% people under stress feel they are not productive, and cry regularly. Over 50% of the World's children are brought up in stressful conditions, says UNESCO. The US govt spends $3 billion per year, on stress-related issues, such as compensation claims, medical expenses and reduced productivity.

66% CEO's in India are stressed-out, and 11% find it too much to handle, says  Association of Chambers(ASSOCHAM).72% of students in India are unaware of how to deal with stress and it's ill-effects. In 2006 alone, 5,857 students committed suicide owing to exam stress. 

Laughing helps ease stress. And laughing 100 times equals 10 minutes of working out on a rowing machine, or 15 minutes of cycling. Children laugh about 300 times a day while adults laugh only 15 to 100 times.

Why suicide?
Increasing population, globalisation, competition and lack of privacy, are some reasons that are increasingly driving people to contemplate a step as extreme as suicide. Looking at demographics, the 20+ age group seems to be the most volatile of the lot. Unrealistically high goals, coupled with the desire to have more and more of material possessions and money, never seem to end. Today “I want money”, then “I want more money” and thereafter “I want even more money” is becoming the norm. 

Break-up of the joint family system, increasing numbers of single parent families and nuclear families, have made parents take the easy way out--giving material gifts instead of time, communication and emotional stability. As a result, children’s coping skills are not fully developed and this makes them vulnerable to stress-causing stimuli. Youngsters suffer from a severe lack of confidence. When they do confide their suicidal tendencies to their friends and family, the warning is usually not taken seriously, and, sometimes, even brushed off as emotional blackmail. The affected individual feels unimportant, emotionally bruised and uncared for. 

The suicidal feeling can subside with emotional care, communication and concern. Callers can get emotional support for their suicidal pain. Aasra is quick to include a disclaimer, that the services provided by it are not a substitute for medical care and do not claim to be therapeutic.

Whether you live in India or abroad, feel free to call Aasra’s 24x7 Helpline: 91-22-27546669 
(India’s country code: 91, followed by the area code: 22, followed by the landline number).
Email:aasrahelpline@yahoo.com
Johnson Thomas can be reached on his mobile phone: +91 982046672
Quite rightly, the caller's identity is never revealed, and none of your calls to Aasra are ever recorded or shared.

Testimonies

*I have been a frequent caller at Aasra helpline and Ihavealways been given the best of service by the helpline volunteers. They understood me and made my life much more bearable. For years, I have been suffering from Bipolar disorder. The helpline volunteers kept me motivated and helped me be proactive about my illness. Today I have stabilised to the extent that I am now able to work and earn a living for myself.  

-Karan, Karnataka. 

 
*I had several traumatic experiences in my past and after a recent crisis I was on the verge of suicide but a timely call to the helpline helped me rethink and re-energise enough to chose life as an option.

-Sara, Jammu & Kashmir 

 
*I work in a Naxal prone region and have had several close encounters with death. Since I have been living away from my family for security reasons there have been several misunderstandings that have caused fights between me and my wife. Life had lost all meaning and I was contemplating suicide when I came across Aasra helpline number on Google. I tried it. Spoke about my troubles to the volunteer on hand and received tremendous caring and concern. After talking to the volunteer for more than an hour, there was renewed hope in me. I felt strong enough to refocus and think of workable alternatives to resolve my issues. I am really grateful to the helpline for having saved me from going over the brink.

-Kushal, Bastar (in Central India, where an extremist Maoist group called the Naxalites/Naxalsis active) 

 
*I called the helpline a few years back and was really grateful for the help received at that time. I was a student then and was suffering from severe stress and anxiety regarding my exams and the volunteer was able to help me come out of that deep funk and suggest ways to de-stress and recoup. I had also suggested this helpline number to one of my friend's who was in a crisis recently and she too was able to come out of her suicidal ideation and focus on getting back on track with her life. We are both sincerely grateful to Aasra for being there for us in our time of need. 

-Reyan, Gujarat. 

 
*My girlfriend and I were having problems with our relationship and she was threatening suicide every time we had a fight- to the point that I had begun to feel cornered and extremely suicidal. I felt there was no point to live if this carried on and was in the process of searching for ways to end my life on Google when I came across this number and decided to give it a try. The volunteer was able to calm me down, make me think about possible things I could do to resolve the conflicts in my relationship, helped me focus on seeking help for my girlfriend and also reminded me that there was a lot more for me to live for. it was not only a relief for me but also enlightening. Thank you, Aasra.

-Negumboh, North-East India. 

 
*I got married to a well heeled Indian, an American citizen in the USA. It was an arranged marriage. The guy was very friendly all through the process before marriage but once we were married he exposed his true colours. He seemed unstable. He was given to quick rages for the pettiest of issues and would even hit me in the few days he has in India after our marriage. I kept quiet and did not raise the alarm, thinking that with time things would get resolved. I was able to join him six months later, but once in the USA, I realised that he had a live-in girl-friend, who he was not willing to let go, and he and his girl-friend treated me abominably. I was on Facebook and had even posted a status saying that I was about to end it all. Facebook directed me to Aasra and I made the call. The volunteer was so caring and empathetic to my troubles and heard me out patiently. At the end I felt strong enough to report my husband to the authorities with help from an NGO there and eventually filed for divorce. Now I am in a better place. I enrolled for higher studies there and am doing quite well financially as well as emotionally. If not for Aasra I would have been just another statistic. 

-Rashna, USA

 

1. Aasra’s Video: Women and Suicide
 
https://youtu.be/w8zt1Eu1g34

 2. Aasra’s Public Service ad, 28 seconds

https://www.facebook.com/anuradha.gargeshwari/videos/10202079693608533 

(Testimonies, facts and figures have been taken from Aasra’s resources, and reproduced in good faith, without editorial alterations/corrections. Some material has been omitted, due to constraints of space).

--Siraj Syed
(Siraj Syed is the Consulting Editor of nrizone.com)

 

Views expressed and claims made in the articles on this site are the contributors' own, and nrizone does not necessarily agree with them, or endorse them, in any way.
Contributions are published in good faith, with due diligence, and liabilities for authenticity or copyright lie with the authors.
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