SNEHA in Madras, India, is a voluntary organization offering emotional support to the lonely, the depressed and the suicidal.

Suicide is a cry for help. Every 8 seconds, someone somewhere in the world attempts suicide, making it the third major cause of death. People who attempt suicide are caught in a conflict between the wish to live and the urge to die. At that time of desolation, if they have someone to talk to, someone who would listen and understand their feelings, someone who could rekindle their faith in life, they may tide over the crisis and want to live.

To address this need, the Samaritan movement was launched in 1953. Over 3000 centers across the world, manned entirely by a volunteer workforce, work for the cause of suicide prevention under the banner of Befrienders International.

SNEHA, an affiliate of Befrienders International, was started at Madras, India, in 1986. Since its inception, over 50,000 people have been befriended. Every day, over 20 people contact the organization through the telephone, through letters or personal visits. Callers are offered emotional support during their time of crisis. They are assured of confidentiality and unconditional acceptance.

The center is run solely with the help of public donations. A careful screening process is undertaken periodically, to select volunteers from all walks of life. These volunteers are then trained and equipped with the necessary skills needed to handle the brfriending needs of the caller. SNEHA is open from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. every day, through the year.

Police records for Madras city show that the number of people who commit suicide each year has dropped dramatically since 1989.

SNEHA has been the pioneer in suicide prevention in India. It has helped in the opening of centers at Hyderabad, Pondicherry and Ernakulam. SNEHA's main thrust so far has been to create public awareness about the services offered by the organization. Given below are some of the campaigns undertaken:

1986: Seminar on suicide involving doctors and psychiatrists
1987: Poster competition among college students
1988: Signboards on local public transport buses
1989: Drama competition among bus corporation employees
1990: Signboards on suburban trains
1992: Programme by eminent dancer Sudharani Raghupathy, presided over by the Governor of Tamil Nadu, Dr. Bhisma Narain Singh
1995: - Display of suicide prevention stickers on autorickshaws
- Conducting of street-plays in Tamil in slum areas of Madras city by the Nalamdana Stage Group

The organization has the following plans for the future:

- Outreach and Disaster Management
- 24-hour service

Although the volunteers offer their services free of cost, the organization needs funds for public awareness campaigns, building rent and administration to the tune of about $3000 per annum.

In addition, SNEHA is completing its 10th year of operation in April 1996. To mark this occasion, Dr. David Clark, Past President of the Association of American Suicidologists, has kindly consented to deliver a commemorative lecture here at Madras. Dr. Clark is the General Secretary of the American Association of Suicide Prevention and Chief of the Center for Suicide Research and Prevention at the Rush-Presbyterian Medical Center at Chicago.

Attending his talk will be Mental Health professionals, counsellors and crisis interventionists from all over India. These are people who deal with suicidal people in the daily course of their work. Their suicide prevention skills will be strengthened. Some of them will initiate suicide prevention centers in their home towns.

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