These days, Befrienders Kuala Lumpur do not only answer calls from those in distress.

They also spend a lot of time replying to e-mails from troubled individuals.

It’s a task they cannot neglect because almost half of those who emailed them have mentioned suicide.

“Most e-mails are sent by individuals below 30. Some e-mails even portray graphic details of suicide,” says Befrienders Kuala Lumpur chairman Mary Raj.

Last year, Befrienders received 2,685 e-mails from individuals who needed emotional support, up from the 2,283 in their in-box in 2014.

“Besides manning two hotlines, we stressed on replying pressing suicidal e-mails in the quickest time. Our concern is to reach out to them before it’s too late.

“It’s certainly a challenge as there is no direct interaction with e-mail respondents. We try to respond to e-mails within a few hours and encourage them to call us for help,” says Mary, who has been a volunteer since the 1980s.

Befrienders Kuala Lumpur – launched in Kuala Lumpur in 1970 – started off as a support hotline. Over the years, it has extended its services to include face-to-face counselling, on-site befriending, outreach programmes and workshops on counselling skills and suicide prevention.

In keeping with the times, the non-profit organisation launched its online services in 1997.

About 30% of callers talk about taking their own lives. Each call is taken seriously, regardless if the caller is at high, middle or low risk of suicide.

“Volunteers can spend between 15 minutes and two and a half hours to counsel people with suicidal intentions. We listen, connect and express concern and try to help understand what they are feeling,” says Mary. Most are grappling with relationship issues, psychological (depression, schizophrenia and bipolar) and financial problems.

To ensure volunteers are equipped to counsel emotionally distraught individuals, they undergo eight weeks of training to learn the art of listening and offering emotional support.

“Volunteers must be dedicated, strong and willing to empathise with those needing emotional assistance. Sometimes, it’s difficult to put a finger on what’s going on in their minds so we have to dig deeper to find out what’s troubling them. We need to be patient to walk them through their journey of recovery.”

While the task is undoubtedly challenging, Mary finds it uplifting to do her part for the community.

“It means a lot knowing that I’ve helped someone suffering in silence. Many people are afraid to talk about their problems.

“Be supportive and be a good listener. Sometimes the person closest to you could be undergoing emotional problems. A lot of people don’t know where to turn to so we need to lend them a shoulder to cry on,” says Mary.

She finds that people tend to neglect their quality of life and peace of mind in their pursuit of material wealth.

“Be happy with life and try not to compare yourself to others. Instead of relying on technology, invest in face-to-face communication with family and friends,” she adds.

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