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Expats' forum in drive to tackle alarming increase in suicides

Bahrain News
Tue, 11 Sep 2018
By Raji Unnikrishnan

AT least 15 calls have been received on hotlines launched by a group of volunteers in Bahrain almost two weeks ago to help prevent suicides.

The initiative by the Pravasi (Expatriates) Guidance Forum (PGF) follows an alarming increase in the number of suicides among expatriates in the kingdom.

The three telephone numbers are being manned by around 60 trained counsellors.

The forum is made up of Keralites, the Indian community which witnessed more than 60 per cent of the suicides reported in Bahrain this year.

In the latest incident, the GDN reported yesterday that 20-year-old Sai Tej Modalavalasa reportedly hanged himself from a ceiling fan in his room in Gudaibiya on Saturday evening.

He was the fourth expatriate to commit suicide in Bahrain this month and 28th this year, of which 20 were Indians, including 12 from Kerala.

“We set up the PGF following an alarming increase in the number of suicides,” PGF president Lathief Ayancheri told the GDN.

“We are a registered forum with 80 trained counsellors, both men and women, of which 60 members are actively involved.

“At any given time we have at least 20 people ready to answer calls.

“Since we launched the hotlines we have received at least 15 calls from distressed people who called to share or seek guidance.”

However, Mr Ayancheri pointed out that employers stepping up counselling programmes for workers will greatly help in tackling the situation, as most of the issues leading to suicides were work related.

“The calls we received were mostly from people with issues at work – non-payment of wages, stress at work, bonded labour and debts.

“This is clear proof that working conditions need to improve and we urge all employers to introduce in-house counselling.”

Lifestyle was also an issue – lack of sleep and exercise and odd eating habits, among others.

“Illegal activities were also given as causes such as people getting trapped in vice activities; we urge embassies and Labour and Social Development Ministry to support our activities.”

The group, described as a “non-religious, non-political forum devoid of caste, creed or colour”, was formed to address the social needs of non-resident Keralites.

However, it is open to all expatriates, said Mr Ayancheri.

“We are recognised by the Non-Resident Keralites Association (Norka) and aim to support the Keralite community from which most of the suicide cases have been reported.

“But we will not restrict our support to one community; our message is: Suicide is not a solution to your problems, if you feel like talking please call us.”

The volunteers offer personal, family and parental counselling, awareness programmes, mentoring and other services.

They are also engaged in independent sessions including out-reach programmes to help rehabilitate alcohol and drug addicts.

Bahrain-based psychotherapist Anne-Laure Renard backed the idea of hotlines in a bid to try and prevent suicides.

“Helping someone speak openly about issues can help and hence hotlines are helpful.

“It is usually a sense of fear and the stigma of shame that makes one resort to committing suicide.

“There are different stages, from having dark thoughts and thinking about death to having well-defined plans of suicide, access to a suicide method and hiding it from others.”

She said in certain cases help may also involve booking someone into a hospital for treatment.

Meanwhile, World Suicide Prevention Day was marked yesterday with celebrities in the UK appealing for a change in the way the media reported the issue.

Pointing out that suicides account for 800,000 deaths worldwide annually, a letter signed by 130 well-known personalities called for an end to the use of the phrase “commit suicide”, claiming that describing the act thus led to a tendency among the public to mimic it.

However, Ms Renard said talking about suicide did not mean planting the idea in someone’s head.

“For example, in therapy, it is something I often ask and I do assess the degree of suicidality to address it properly.”

The PGF hotline numbers are 39605806, 39283875 and 33601311.

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