A friend in­deed

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INSIGHT -

TH­ESE days, Be­frien­ders Kuala Lumpur do not only an­swer calls from those in dis­tress.

They also spend a lot of time re­ply­ing to e- mails from trou­bled in­di­vid­u­als.

It’s a task they can­not ne­glect be­cause al­most half of those who emailed them have men­tioned sui­cide.

“Most e- mails are sent by in­di­vid­u­als below 30. Some e- mails even por­tray graphic de­tails of sui­cide,” says Be­frien­ders Kuala Lumpur chair­man Mary Raj.

Last year, Be­frien­ders re­ceived 2,685 e- mails from in­di­vid­u­als who needed emo­tional sup­port, up from the 2,283 in their in- box in 2014.

“Be­sides man­ning two hot­lines, we stressed on re­ply­ing press­ing sui­ci­dal e- mails in the quick­est time. Our con­cern is to reach out to them be­fore it’s too late.

“It’s cer­tainly a chal­lenge as there is no di­rect in­ter­ac­tion with e- mail re­spon­dents. We try to re­spond to e- mails within a few hours and en­cour­age them to call us for help,” says Mary, who has been a vol­un­teer since the 1980s.

Be­frien­ders Kuala Lumpur – launched in Kuala Lumpur in 1970 – started off as a sup­port hot­line. Over the years, it has ex­tended its ser­vices to in­clude face- to- face coun­selling, on- site be­friend­ing, out­reach pro­grammes and work­shops on coun­selling skills and sui­cide preven­tion.

In keep­ing with the times, the non- profit or­gan­i­sa­tion launched its on­line ser­vices in 1997.

About 30% of call­ers talk about tak­ing their own lives. Each call is taken se­ri­ously, re­gard­less if the caller is at high, middle or low risk of sui­cide.

“Vol­un­teers can spend be­tween 15 min- utes and two and a half hours to coun­sel peo­ple with sui­ci­dal in­ten­tions. We lis­ten, con­nect and ex­press con­cern and try to help un­der­stand what they are feel­ing,” says Mary. Most are grap­pling with re­la­tion­ship is­sues, psy­cho­log­i­cal ( de­pres­sion, schizophre­nia and bipo­lar) and fi­nan­cial prob­lems.

To en­sure vol­un­teers are equipped to coun­sel emo­tion­ally dis­traught in­di­vid­u­als, they un­dergo eight weeks of train­ing to learn the art of lis­ten­ing and of­fer­ing emo­tional sup­port.

“Vol­un­teers must be ded­i­cated, strong and will­ing to em­pathise with those need­ing emo­tional as­sis­tance. Some­times, it’s dif­fi­cult to put a fin­ger on what’s go­ing on in their minds so we have to dig deeper to find out what’s trou­bling them. We need to be pa­tient to walk them through their jour­ney of re­cov­ery.”

While the task is un­doubt­edly chal­leng­ing, Mary finds it up­lift­ing to do her part for the com­mu­nity.

“It means a lot know­ing that I’ve helped some­one suf­fer­ing in si­lence. Many peo­ple are afraid to talk about their prob­lems.

“Be sup­port­ive and be a good lis­tener. Some­times the per­son clos­est to you could be un­der­go­ing emo­tional prob­lems. A lot of peo­ple don’t know where to turn to so we need to lend them a shoul­der to cry on,” says Mary.

She finds that peo­ple tend to ne­glect their qual­ity of life and peace of mind in their pur­suit of ma­te­rial wealth.

“Be happy with life and try not to com­pare your­self to oth­ers. In­stead of re­ly­ing on tech­nol­ogy, in­vest in face- to- face com­mu­ni­ca­tion with fam­ily and friends,” she adds.

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