The state suicide prevention helpline number 1802333330 run by Gandhinagar police not only prevented vulnerable people from committing suicide during Covid-19 but also helped dispel fears and myths about vaccination which spread prolifically on social media. The number of calls on the helpline have dropped but the responders still remember the horror stories narrated by people contemplating to harm themselves.
“During the second wave of Covid when the vaccination drive was on, we received calls from people asking us about the effects of Covid-19 vaccines. One caller told us that he felt that body had become ‘magnetic’. We counselled him and made him understand that nothing of the sort can ever happen with a Covid vaccine,” said Praveen Valera, a helpline coordinator.
Before the pandemic in 2019, the helpline got about 18,250 calls in the year – about 50 calls a day — from vulnerable persons who felt suicidal for one reason or the other. “Such calls went up to 32,850 during the Covid period, at about 90 calls per day. A majority of these were related to fear of Covid, Valera said.
For example, a married woman with a one-and-a-half-year-old kid from Surat called up the helpline and said that her husband has tested Covid-19 positive and she would commit suicide if he died. The helpline team informed Surat police about the call. Police traced and counselled her. Her husband recovered and they have a happy life now. However, not everyone who survived the pandemic is living happily.
A man from Navsari called up the Gandhinagar helpline. “He had lost his job during the pandemic. His family consists of wife and three kids. He told us that he was standing on the Jallapor railway track and ready to end his life right at the time when he was talking to us. While the call was in progress, we traced his location and informed Navsari police, who rushed to the spot and saved him in the nick of time,” said Valera.
At present, calls made at the suicide prevention helpline stand at 70 a day. “Some 30% are related to financial related issues and 20% calls are about breakups. Academic and exam stress related calls are still low in numbers,” said a senior official at the helpline.
Recently, a woman from Chhattisgarh called the helpline. She told the volunteers that she had been locked in the house by her husband for two weeks. She had a love marriage. But now he has left her.
“We took immediate action and informed the Chhattisgarh police control room. They located her and rescued her from the confinement. Her husband was counselled and the two are back together,” the official said.