The HEALTH : May 2019 - Page 16

The HealtH Health | MAy, 2019 16 ISSUE: issue: MENTAL mental HEALTH health Help is just a phone call away The befrienders strives to become a safe place for ones struggling with mental health issues A Befrienders KL often organises outreach programmes to address depression and suicide issues. t Befrienders KL, the person on the phone isn’t trying to sell you something – they are trying to save your life. If you haven’t heard of this almost 50-year-old organisation that’s been secretly saving lives, it’s time you do. Befrienders are a group of volunteers who lend their ears and offer a shoulder to cry on. The Health speak to Kenny Lim, Executive Director of Befrienders KL who has been a listening ear for the past 21 years. the mental health. “Your feelings are the core of your well-being,” he states. Mental health issues on the rise A recent 2017 survey by the Ministry of Health found that 18,336 people suffers from various stages of depression based on health screenings done on 273,203 individuals. A safe place to vent Taking an emotional toll on the volunteers “The organisation kick-started back in 1970. After the May 13, 1969 incident, a lot of people became very restless and uncertain. A group of people came together and felt the importance to have a service to cater to their troubles – for them to talk out their worries. That’s how Befrienders KL started.” According to Lim, the Befrienders doesn’t actually provide any advice or solution to the problems their callers have. Rather, they ‘befriends’ them and provide an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, and a safe place for callers to express their thoughts and feelings. Listening day after day to people struggling through some of the darkest moments of their lives can take an emotional toll.  “We always tell our volunteers that whatever hap- pens in the phone room stays in the phone room. The confidentiality clause also ensures that we do not share the calls with our friends or outsiders. Being affected by a call – it can happen because when you pick up a call, you don’t know what kind of stories will be shared. Therefore, we are encouraged to talk to our fellow volunteers on duty. Kenny Lim explains the need for some to vent out their worries and feelings to Befrienders as a way to ease their mental health issues. Malaysian callers aplenty According to Kenny, the Befrienders KL gets about 80 contacts a day. 78 percent would be through phone calls, 20 percent would be from emails, while the remaining are face-to-face interactions. “An interesting thing to note would the increase in emails. In the past 5 years, it has increased a lot and I think it’s because the younger generations tends to lean towards emails. I guess it’s because in the older days, calling was not so intimidating. However now even calling on the phone, a lot of the younger generation are finding that to be rather intimidating,” says Lim. It means a lot to listen “A lot of people tend to ask us – you just listen but you don’t dole out advice, how does that help?” Lim expresses. “When you call the Befrienders, your problems will very much still be there because we don’t act as a solution. Our services is more in the line of giving them a place to vent and share their feelings.” “When a person is suicidal for example, they tend to feel like no one understands them which makes them feel isolated. Therefore by having someone at the other end of the line who accepts them with no judgement, it sends a message that it’s not so bad and can lessen their loneliness. This allows them to be in a better position to manage their problems,” he explains. Relationships and mental health are the two main issues According to Lim, the most common issues for callers has been relationships and mental health issue such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. Family is third on the list. What if the volunteers are having personal issues of their own? “We are getting a lot of emails from younger indi- viduals and to our surprise, they email us not because of studies. Instead it’s mostly about social life, friends and family. Some express that despite parents provid- ing everything, attention and care is never seem to be there.” Lim stresses on the fact that a lot of focus tends to be placed on academic and physical aspects but never “If the volunteer is having issues and need time off, we completely understand because it’s important – if you don’t take care of your own self, how will you be able to take care of others?” — The Health The Befrienders can be contacted through their hotline at 03-79568145, emailed at, or a face-to-face meeting by appointment. Want to be a Befrienders volunteer? Feel like you have the qualities to be a Befrienders volunteer? We ask Kenny Lim, Executive Director of Befrienders KL to fill us on the step by step training before becoming a fully- fledged volunteer. 1 2 The only requirement is one has be 21 and above. Attend a preview. A preview is where you will be explained what kind of work is done at Befrienders, the commitments involved, the type of training and expectations. 3 4 If interested, you will be called for an interview. If they feel that you are suited to be a volunteer, you will have to go through eight sessions of training. Each sessions takes three and a half hours. The training will touch on topics such as depression, suicide, active listening and also role plays. This is where potential volunteers will judge for themselves if this is something they are committed to doing. 5 After eight weeks of training, there’s supervision and probation. According to Kenny, the entire process on becoming a Befrienders volunteer takes roughly one and a half years. “At the end of the training period, we do see people dropping out. This is because some people have the notion that they want to come and save or prevent people from suiciding. Our ways are different, we don’t tell them to stop and say it’s wrong, we do it subtly. We place much importance on not giving advice and not telling what to do. It’s a long, delicate process because in the end we are talking to people who are suicidal.”