x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Help hotline for Indian workers after two high-profile suicides

Radio advertisements in five Indian languages will encourage expatriates from the sub-continent to call counsellors following recent, high-profile suicides.

DUBAI // A three-month campaign of radio advertisements in five Indian languages begins today urging workers to seek help if they have marital, psychological or financial problems.

The 30-second ads tell Indian nationals to call the Indian Workers Resource Centre in Dubai. Counsellors will be on hand with advice.

"We thought radio was the most convenient and effective medium to reach out to workers," M K Lokesh, the Indian ambassador, said. "It will encourage them to seek help.

"It is not that these advertisements are intended to target only people with suicidal tendencies. The main aim is to raise awareness among all workers about the resource centre and its potential to help distressed workers."

An awareness campaign has been planned since the centre opened last November, but the radio ads follow two high-profile suicides in the Indian community in 10 days. A 45-year-old executive jumped from the 30th floor of a building in Jumeirah Lake Towers last Sunday.

The week before, Athiraman Kannan, 32, an Indian foreman, jumped from the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. He is believed to have been suffering from depression.

"Often many of us are depressed because we leave our families and live here alone," Mr Kannan's roommate and work colleague, Ramanan Ramanujam, said yesterday.

"Sometimes we live with six people in a room. Only if we are close do we really discuss our issues with our roommates.

"The morning Kannan died he tried to speak to a fellow worker who was very close to him. We were all in a hurry to leave for work and were unable to speak to him. But if one of us had spoken to him, we could probably have changed his mind."

There have been at least 39 suicides of Indian nationals this year. Last year about 132, almost one every three days, took their own lives.

Indian authorities hope the radio, popular among workers, will be an effective medium to reduce suicidal tendencies.

The advertisements will run in Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil, Punjabi and Telugu, on different Indian radio stations. They will target various ethnic groups, and will inform workers of the resource centre's facilities, encouraging them to call if they face problems.

"Our effort is to bring down the number of suicides," Mr Lokesh said.

Most suicides involve blue-collar workers who usually resort to hanging or throwing themselves under a moving vehicle.

Despite the recent high-profile cases, the number of suicides among Indian expatriates has been declining. The Indian embassy says 176 Indian nationals took their own lives in 2008, and 135 in 2009.

Loneliness, financial problems and marital issues were the most common causes, embassy officials said.

Mr Ramanujam said he thought workers sometimes just need someone to talk to. "It really helps when someone listens to us," he said. "It is very hard to overcome some of the psychological issues we face.

"I think that 99 per cent of the time it reduces our burden if someone listens and talks to us. It is possible that counsellors can help and workers will call if they need to speak to someone desperately."

K V Shamsudheen, chairman of the Pravasi Bharatiya Welfare Trust, an Indian social welfare organisation that offers counselling to expatriate workers, said: "Almost 75 per cent of psychological issues are related to financial problems."

A significant number of Indian expatriates pay recruitment fees to secure jobs in the Gulf, although the practice is illegal.

"Many are also extremely lonely here as they do not have the family back-up that they enjoy back in India. They need a strong social support system," Mr Shamsudheen said.

"We can reduce the number of suicides by just giving them an opportunity to release their stress, being good listeners and offering counselling to overcome their problems."

He said the resource centre, through its radio initiative, had a strong potential to reduce the number of suicides and help workers in distress.

The centre provides legal, financial and psychological advice. Since the centre's opening in November, its free helpline, 800 46342 (800 India), has received mora than 9,000 calls, mostly about unpaid salaries, faulty contracts, job losses, expired visas and passports held by employers. Of these, about 31 callers were referred to the centre's counsellors.

The number of calls has doubled from 50 to 100 a day in the past week since the two high-profile suicides were reported. However, most of the calls were related to legal issues.

The centre was opened by the Indian president, Pratibha Patil, last November.

pkannan@thenational.ae