Written By : Andrew Samuel
PETALING JAYA: Before becoming the chairman of Befrienders Kuala Lumpur, Justin Victor had been a volunteer for 23 years, and he has not stopped since.
“I started out as a volunteer, mainly taking calls on the Befrienders helpline on a regular basis and only got into the management of the centre in 2015. I still continue to man the helpline.
“We all volunteer part-time and have duty slots on a weekly basis (to man the helpline) for about three to four hours,” Victor said.
He said a volunteer would usually receive a phone call from someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts and the volunteer would ask how they can help.
“When a call comes in, we usually identify who we are by using a ‘Befrienders name’ to create a sense of confidentiality and take the conversation from there. Callers also do not need to tell us their real names,” he said.
Victor said one of the most important protocols in the organisation is its focus on suicide prevention, adding that in a conversation after 15 to 20 minutes, a volunteer should have already gauged whether the person on the line has any suicidal thoughts or is leaning towards it.
“Some will immediately begin their calls and say that they feel like taking their own lives. We have to be there to understand their pain and actually ‘give an ear’ to their concerns,” he said.
Victor also added that being a volunteer is no easy task because the training lasts about five months, including a one-on-one period under a supervisor before he or she is able to man the helpline alone.
“When I first started out, I would get self-conscious and nervous with what to say and whether I was taking the right approach. There is a huge weight of responsibility on your shoulders to help this person.
“However, over the course of time, with a little bit of practise, you improve and slowly get to talk to people in a more comfortable and natural way,” he said.
Victor said the hardest thing about being a volunteer is being in a scenario where the caller can’t see a way out from his personal situation and will continue his choice to end his life after the phone call.
“It gets really ‘heavy’ when the call is almost over and the person appreciates you for listening, but still says he or she might go through with it. It’s really a heartbreaking moment.
“That is when self-doubt comes in. I’ll think about whether I have done enough. You still feel very worried for the person and you’ll never get used to that feeling.
“But of course our protocols are to let them know that if the thought of suicide arises, they should call us and give us a chance to talk to them again before making any decision. We must hold a fundamental belief that there is always a way out of our problems,” he said.
Despite this, Victor said every once in a while they receive calls from people thanking the volunteers, saying their previous call really helped them to get over their suicidal thoughts.
He also said the volunteers usually share these moments to give themselves hope that doing all this is worthwhile.
In recognition of World Suicide Prevention Day, Victor said those who are struggling with mental health should reach out and talk to somebody as there are so many people around them who want to be there and give emotional support.
“Even if you don’t know what to say, just reach out to us. We will help guide you throughout the conversation. Also, be comforted that the phone call is private and confidential. The bottom line is that you’re not alone,” he said.
If you or your loved ones need help, Befrienders Kuala Lumpur can be reached around the clock at 03-7627 2929. Contact details of other Befrienders centres can be found at the Befrienders website.