Sneha: Answering Cries For Help

September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. Sneha, the suicide prevention organization offers help and suicide prevention tips.

September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. Sneha, the suicide prevention organization offers help and suicide prevention tips. 

By A Sneha Volunteer*

The November rains were here – unleashed, unabated. But it did not seem to deter the enthusiastic “cracker-bursters” around, defying the monsoons with umbrellas and an undying spirit. I felt a kindred spirit with them as I stepped out with my own umbrella to hail an auto-rickshaw. 

I settled into the driest spot in the auto and relaxed. Looking around, I was amazed at the festive spirit that Deepavali brought in – everywhere one could see families together, laughing, enjoying, celebrating – the rains just did not seem to matter. And my thoughts soon shifted to those who may be left feeling lonely and isolated on this day – those who may reach out today – those for whom I needed to be there today – at Sneha.

Preventing suicides by volunteering at Sneha

I have been a volunteer with Sneha for many years. But to me, each day at the centre has been a new day – to be there for someone who may be feeling that life is too painful to live. With all the traffic and the rains, I managed to reach the centre just in time for my four-hour duty.

I knew it could be anybody this time – a child worried about her exam results, a young man rejected by his lover, a woman sharing her frustrations about her life, an elderly gentleman coping with his loneliness, a man in financial distress, a homosexual rejected by society, a terminally ill woman, someone in depression or guilt, someone inches away from giving up on life…  And I knew I was right there to be with them.

…each day at the centre has been a new day – to be there for someone who may be feeling that life is too painful to live.

The helpline rang gently and I mentally prepared myself to take the call. I said a silent prayer – a prayer that I should be able to listen without judgement, unconditionally accept and support the person at the other end. I picked up the receiver and began with all the warmth in my voice, “Sneha, can I help you?

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For the next hour, I was with a stranger, sharing the most intense distress she was going through – something that each and every volunteer of Sneha is geared to do.

The story behind Sneha, the suicide prevention organization

Dr. Lakshmi Vijayakumar, a psychiatrist by profession, was inspired to start Sneha after a chance trip to a similar centre in Slough by the Samaritans. Back in Chennai, she felt that it was essential to set up an organization here which could offer emotional support to the distressed and the suicidal.  Thus was born SNEHA in 1986.

I always believed that suicide prevention is not the responsibility of a few mental health professionals. It is a social responsibility. It is everybody’s responsibility. I just wanted the warm, human touch that I believe makes all the difference during times of distress. I believe in the egalitarian principle that is important in such a scenario”, says Dr. Lakshmi Vijayakumar.

For 26 years now, the centre has been manned entirely by volunteers from different walks of life. What is common to them all is their care, warmth and earnestness to “be there” for the person in distress.

Can just “being there” help in preventing suicides?

During my first days as a volunteer in Sneha, I used to wonder why anyone would call and share so much with total strangers. I used to wonder at the intensity of the emotions of those who called; how to each, their problem seemed gigantic, their pain insurmountable and their situation hopeless – with many of them standing at the edge of life. What could ordinary people like me do?

To give no advice, to solve no problems, to pass no judgements – to just accept, to just listen and to just ‘be there’: is that all one needs in times of distress? With time, I learnt it made a world of difference. I learnt that to someone feeling suicidal, offering space to ventilate could just be the helping hand to move them out of danger. How much this helps in dissipating suicidal thoughts and alleviating the pain is something I got to witness time and again.

To give no advice, to solve no problems, to pass no judgements – to just accept, to just listen and to just ‘be there’…

Many found talking to a stranger ideal during times of distress. The fear of being judged and of consequences seemed to prevent them from opening up to even caring people around them. In some instances, there was no such person available to offer support.

At the end of the shift, I may not have solved anyone’s problems. But I have been there for another human being in distress. Most times, I feel humbled by the privilege of having been given the opportunity to do just that. And I wish I continue to touch and be touched by many more lives ahead. 

How can you help in preventing suicides?

– If you are over 20 years of age, have a working knowledge of Tamil and English, a resident of Chennai and interested to volunteer with us (Read, 5 Tips To Start Volunteering), do contact us for further information.

– You can help financially. Please contact us for further details.

– You can refer us to someone who is in distress and encourage them to contact us after explaining our services.  Here is a brief that could be used:

“SNEHA is a suicide prevention organization that offers unconditional emotional support to people in distress. One can talk about whatever is bothering you. Whatever is shared will remain confidential at SNEHA. One can also choose to remain anonymous.”

Suicide prevention tips

Here are a few things all of us can do in case somebody we know talks of “ending her life”, “seeing no further purpose in life”, “giving up”, “feel like running away from it all” or any other phrase that indicates that she is frustrated with life:

1. Clarify what that person means – Is she thinking of ending her life? Do not criticize or negate her thoughts. Listen to it as a cry for help

2. Allow her to vent her feelings, just be there and listen

3. Do not advise or try to solve the problem

4. Gently suggest the option of calling SNEHA by providing our phone number and e-mail id and encourage her to talk to us

5. Ensure that she is not left alone

Most importantly, if someone talks to you about suicidal thoughts, do not brush it aside or rubbish the idea. Suicide is certainly not a pleasant topic for conversation – nevertheless, it cannot be wished away or ignored. Help the person to feel accepted by not shunning the word if she uses it. If you feel uncomfortable addressing it further, please brief her about SNEHA and encourage contacting us. Our services are free.

People who commit suicide always give enough indications or warnings about their intentions. Unburdening their feelings and emotions can immensely help them get over feeling suicidal. Let us each take preventing suicides as our responsibility.

Contact details:

11 Park View Road
R. A. Puram
Chennai – 600028
Helpline – 91-44-24640050/ 91-44-24640060
Email – [email protected]
Website –

*Name not disclosed to protect confidentiality.

*Photo credit: Ashley Rose (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)


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