FactChecker called government and non-government sucide prevention helplines to understand the challenges they faced. India’s suicide rate stood at 12 (per 1 lakh population) in 2021, highest ever in the last two decades, per official records. Moreover, deaths by suicide has been on a continuous rise in the last five years. As suicide cases spiked the government’s lone mental health helpline, could only be reached three of the over 40 times it was called over a period of five days. Further, non-governmental helplines also faced roadblocks: shortage of funds, lack of volunteers, bad telecommunication network and burnout among other issues.
Once this news story was published, we received an overwhelming response from professionals working in the mental health area for highlighting the the concerns faced by helplines. Many of them shared the same roadblocks and concerns the interviewees in the story faced. Some helplines who had just begun operating requested us to put up their numbers on our website for anyone who needed it. We even received emails from readers who were up untill reading the story, unaware of the helpline numbers and the suicide statistics of the country. Since lack of funds is one of the main roadblocks in running suicide helplines smoothly, non-governmental suicide helplines across the country have reached out to us in helping them raise funds. Hence, in the coming months we plan to launch a service that would connect helplines with organisations and persons willing to help fund them.
This story only needed basic resources like a mobile phone and good internet network.
Context about the project:
Suicide prevention helplines are useful and necessary but can only help so much. Until now, we have largely relied on volunteer and NGO efforts which are poorly funded. There is a need to properly fund these suicide prevention helplines. In the absense of a national fund to fund helplines in different states, it will be extremely challenging for existing mental health professionals and helplines to function daily.
Given the huge geographical variations in the number as well as profile of suicide deaths in different parts of the country, experts advised that state governments should draft and implement state suicide prevention strategies. A national suicide prevention policy may be useful in setting a broad policy direction for suicide prevention, but the specific suicide prevention strategies must be at the state level.
What can other journalists learn from this project?
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Preventing crises is probably the most important issue – which actually means investing efforts and resources in addressing the structural drivers of suicides in our country – domestic violence, alcohol misuse, financial difficulties, unemployment, access to mental health treatment – are just a few examples.