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The role and impact of Befriending

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Dr Mahavir Ram

Befriending means ‘to be friend’ in a particular way and plays a very important role in taking care of a person who is stressed or depressed or suicidal. Befriending is one way by which they can be supported to get more fully involved. ‘Befrienders Worldwide’ is an international organisation with its office in England which works in the field of stressed, depression or suicide prevention. ‘Befrienders Worldwide’ has nearly 44000 volunteers working for this human cause.

‘Jeevan’ suicide prevention centre, Jamshedpur is a unit of Befrienders Worldwide and is working for this important cause, since 2007 and is located at 25, Q Road, Bistupur.  Befriending means listening to the caller (visitor or telephone caller) with all sincerity, sympathy and honesty. While the person keeps on talking and telling all his problems the Befrienders keeps on listening with all sympathy, sincerity and empathy. Empathically plays very important role and impress upon the caller that Befriender is really concerned/ worried and well-wishers of the caller.     

 While Befriending, the volunteers tries to listen to the caller say 90 per cent of the time. In case the caller stops speaking the volunteer asks explanatory questions with the objective making the caller speak and ventilate. Talking by the caller ( either on phone or face to face) is necessary for the treatment of the caller. 

A Befriender does not give his identity to the caller, neither he tries to know the identity of the caller. The caller is requested to not to recognised/ wish the Befriender or the vice-versa.

In Befriending the identity of the caller is not known to the Befriender, the caller in the centre or on the phone, the caller is provided the important relevant literature to his benefit. The main aim of the Befriender is to take his agony out. This greatly benefits the caller. If the caller stops talking the Befrienders puts a question so that the caller starts speaking again. 

The sitting position ( angle and distance) of the caller and the volunteer is important and divided as per a particular situation. For example if a girl is a caller who has been raped,  she is not sitting very near to the volunteer. In Befriending the information regarding the caller is not given to anybody.

For example if a terrorist comes to the centre and says that he has placed a bomb at a particular position but now I am disturbed that some people may be killed. In general the most accepted sitting position is 4 am. 

Befriending provides companionship for isolated people, the chance to develop a new relationship, and opportunities to participate in social activities. Befriending is used by people of all ages and with all kinds of support needs. Most users also have contact with other agencies which provide community care services.

Befrienders are volunteers. Users in the survey valued the fact that the befriender chooses to spend time with them, rather than being under a professional or family obligation to do so.

Befriending organisations, volunteers and users all considered matching volunteers and users to be a key to success. Matching is most often based on shared interests and on both parties living in the same area. Services for older people are the most likely to perceive problems in matching.

Befriending is valued in different ways by users and volunteer befrienders. Users regard the befriender as their ‘friend’ and appreciate the different leisure opportunities befriending brings. Volunteers enjoy the relationship but see differences between befriending and ‘friendship’. In particular, it is not necessarily a reciprocal relationship and they feel a sense of responsibility to see the user regularly and for a particular purpose. They do not want the caller to depend on them habitually. He also conveys to the caller that he is free to use other sources of consultation like a psychologist, psychiatrist and taking other medical assistance if required by the caller, a list of such facilities is provided to him by the volunteer. Befriending is a very important tool for giving relief to the stressed, depressed and suicidals. We request people to avail of this international approved selfless service. 

 (Dr Mahavir Ram is founder of Jamshedpur-based suicide prevention centre ‘Jeevan’. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author.)

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