As many as 21 students have killed themselves after Telangana announced its Intermediate results. They chose to burn themselves to death or jump in front of the train rather than facing the ignominy of their perceived failure. What makes it more tragic this time that it’s not that they did not perform well, but their papers were not evaluated in a fair manner. A probe team found several lapses on the part of the Telangana Board of Intermediate Education.
Those who have survived the turmoil of the Indian exam system know that it is wrong to tie one’s reason for existence with examination marks. They read about these young lives getting snuffed out and despair - “Why did no one talk to them?” “Can we do something?”.
There is actually a thing we all can do. We can become a suicide gatekeeper.
Who is a suicide gatekeeper?
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), gatekeepers are usually described as people who, in non-medical settings, in the course of their work regularly come into contact with individuals or families in distress. They make daily contact with vulnerable individuals and can play significant roles in identifying risk behaviour at an early stage and, in many cases, facilitating pathways to mental health care.
The gatekeepers can include nonmedical professionals, such as teachers, social workers and related professionals, volunteers and laypeople, family members and caregivers of people with psychiatric disorders, police and prison staff, and religious leaders. However, according to mental health professionals in Hyderabad, there are no such courses being offered here right now.
The gatekeeper course
Dr V Senthil Kumar Reddi, additional professor in Department of Psychiatry at Nimhans (Bangalore), has been conducting Gatekeeper Training in Suicide Intervention at Nimhans Centre for Well-being for the last six years.
Explaining how the programme works, he says: “We conduct it once in 2-3 months. It is a one-day programme of five-hour duration. We help people to understand the core aspects of suicide risk, the stigma surrounding suicide and the risk factors that needed to be identified. The job of a gatekeeper is not to offer any specialised service, but to flag people in distress and refer them to a mental health care professional within the community.”
Elaborating on the training session, he adds: “We train people to gauge the level of suicide risk a person in distress faces. Then depending on the level of risk - high, moderate or low - the gatekeeper is trained to support the person. We tell people about the behavioural changes that people in distress might display. It is not necessary that anyone who is contemplating suicide is suffering from depression, or that every depressed person contemplates suicide. Suicide gatekeepers are trained to identify indirect signs and talk to the person in distress after gaining his/her trust.”
Revealing that they have trained over 1,800 persons, the professor says: “Anyone can become a suicide gatekeeper irrespective of educational qualifications and profession. We are trying to empower community members to help people in distress. As of now, this course is a one-to-one interactive session and is not available online.”
Gatekeepers in Hyderabad
There is no suicide gatekeeper training being provided in the city as of now, but people can volunteer to work for suicide helplines. Suicide awareness programmes are conducted in corporate companies, schools, jails and other institutions in the city, but they are different from gatekeeper programmes because the latter aim to equip a more heterogenous population with the skills to prevent suicide.
Roshni Counselling Centre runs a suicide helpline in the city. B Shrikanth, a trustee of the Roshni Group, says: “Our helpline provides non-judgemental support to the caller during emotional crisis. Volunteers are taught to listen to callers from different economic and cultural backgrounds, and also from different sexual orientations. The helpline remains closed on Sundays, Holi, Diwali and Ganesh immersion day.”
Talking on how gatekeeper training differs from suicide helplines, Dr Senthil says: “Suicide helplines are a form of crisis response support. The time frame is shorter and the caller is unknown. On the contrary, gatekeepers can observe signs of distress in a person they know.”
How to become a suicide helpline volunteer for Roshni:
- The volunteers work in three shifts - 9 am to 2pm, 2:30 pm to 6:30 pm, 6:30 pm to 9 pm
- Each shift has minimum two volunteers
- Ads looking for volunteers appear in all major dailies in city
- A volunteer has to devote 4 hours a week. He/she can be from any background. It’s a voluntary service and volunteers are not paid any compensation.
- Selection process
- Group discussion: People are assessed on their listening skills, their ease around sensitive topics like suicide
- Two rounds of personal interviews
- The selected ones undergo intensive full-day training spread over four weekends