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June 18, 1999
Samaritans Seek Ethnic Volunteers
R S Shankar
Suicide is something that happens in other communities, says Deepak Bajwa, a New Yorker in taxi business. "Indians are god-fearing people," he says. "We do not kill ourselves. Look at the word atmahatya," he says. "In English, there is just one word -- suicide but in India we say, killing of the soul."
Told about several Indian teenagers including a Ivy-League bound girl who killed themselves in recent years and scores of alleged suicide efforts among people from the Indian subcontinent, he shrugs his shoulders. "Never heard about such things," he says.
At Samaritans, scores of volunteers have not only heard such stories but many more. They have heard desperate calls from people who are about to kill themselves -- and the organization is desperately seeking volunteers from all communities, particularly the ethnic communities, given the demographic change in New York neighborhoods.
Samaritans also wants to connect with Indian social work groups, therapists and social workers across the country.
The New York-based organization, which offers immediate counseling, last year received 45,000 calls from people contemplating suicide, compared with 25,000 five years ago. But the number of volunteers is grossly inadequate, the organizers of the 24-hour hotline say.
Though suicide is the 8th leading cause of death in America (with over 35,000 fatalities a year), most people would be shocked to learn that more Americans take their own lives each year than are murdered by someone else and that, over the last five years, more people have died from suicide than from AIDS [source: National Centers for Health Statistics].
Samaritans believe many lives are saved by volunteer listeners who guide the depressed and desperate to clinics and hospitals. The world's largest suicide prevention network with over 400 branches in 30 countries, Samaritans, established in 1983, has provided training and consultation to more than 20,000 students, parents, teachers and counselors in New York alone.
The suicide prevention hotline is currently staffed by over 100 volunteers who go through intensive training, it is the city's only confidential 24-hour hotline devoted to preventing suicide. The hotline responds to callers from every walk of life, with problems ranging from AIDS and other illnesses to being the victim of violence or sexual abuse to the loss of a loved one, to being unemployed or suffering from depression.
It also runs Safe Place Suicide Survivor Groups are free, monthly "peer support" meetings for those people who have lost a loved one to suicide who seek a "safe" and comfortable setting where they can share their feelings and express their fears, conflicts and pain with others who are responding to the same issues and problems.
Samaritans has been featured in a New York Magazine cover story, in pieces in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Daily News, NY Post and Newsday, on MTV and Prime Time Live (segments on Kurt Cobain's suicide), Good Morning America (their major series on depression) and PBS, which devoted a program to the work of executive director Alan Ross.
The organization is non-religious and non-political. To be a volunteer, contact, (212) 673-3041. If you or someone you know is in crisis or feeling suicidal, call Samaritan's 24-hour suicide prevention hotline,(212) 673-3000.
For correspondence, donations and inquiries: The Samaritans of New York, Inc Post Office Box 1259. Madison Square Station. New York, NY 10159; web site: www.samaritansnyc.org
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