This toll-free helpline is helping people in Maharashtra cope with Covid fatigue, anger, panic

By Manasi PhadkeonApr. 25, 2021inHealth and Hygiene

Samvad, supported by Maharashtra govt & run by NGO Project Mumbai, has been helping people deal with mental health issues triggered by the pandemic since last year. samvadngo.com, 9820856324 and 9594972342 and email [email protected]

Representational image | Pixabay

Mumbai: Anxiety, hopelessness, mental fatigue, anger — the counsellors at ‘Samvad’, a mental well-being helpline based in Maharashtra, have been fielding calls on many of these issues for the past few weeks, in light of the aggressive second wave of Covid-19.

Supported by the Maharashtra government and run by the NGO Project Mumbai, Samvad has been helping people deal with mental health issues triggered by the pandemic since April last year.

Since its inception, the toll-free helpline (1800-102-4040), which is operational from 8 am to 8 pm every day, has fielded about 700 calls.

Devika Kapoor, project officer-in-charge of Project Mumbai’s mental health wing, said  Samvad has been getting a lot of calls since January with people expressing panic, anger and a feeling of hopelessness, not knowing when and how the crisis is going to end.

“There is confusion about vaccines and protocols. Callers are extremely distressed, but predominantly mad at the situation being back to square one. There are also a lot of concerns and fears about the new strains,” Kapoor told ThePrint.

The helpline, which currently has 30 counsellors, does not diagnose or medicate but only aims to provide emotional support.

While the demography of the callers has been diverse, according to the helpline organisers, several adolescents have been reaching out for counselling this year.

Shishir Joshi, chief executive at Project Mumbai, said, “In the second wave, we have been getting a number of calls from the adolescent section of the population, so Samvad is now working towards launching a dedicated line for adolescents within the existing helpline.”

“A majority of our callers have been from the rural districts of Maharashtra and some from outside the state as well,” he added.

Exam flip-flops, career woes major concerns for adolescents 

All counsellors at Samvad hold a Master’s degree in clinical or counselling psychology and most can speak, read and write in Marathi. Most of them are bilingual and their second language is Hindi or English.

Project Mumbai has also given all counsellors a detailed orientation and a list of dos and don’ts on how to handle calls.

With several adolescents reaching out to Samvad, the NGO authorities have decided to bring 15 more counsellors on board to exclusively address their concerns.

According to Kapoor, the uncertainty surrounding exam dates and academic pressure are the foremost concerns among teenagers.

“There has been much back and forth for the adolescent population on whether exams are happening, not happening, whether they should study or not. We have been getting a lot of calls about academic pressure, about their careers, about how they are missing out on the college experience. It can all be very demotivating,” she said.

Kapoor added that adolescent callers have also been reporting feelings of guilt, mostly due to parental pressure.

“Callers have reported the fatigue they feel from sitting in front of screens for six to eight hours a day for learning. They also talk of guilt for feeling bad about themselves. At times, parents invalidating their feelings and concerns by telling them they are fortunate to have a house, food to eat and so on, which gives rise to the guilt.”


Nearly 50% calls on food security, especially in first wave

According to an analysis of the 700-odd calls that Samvad received from April 2020 to April 2021, about 47.8 per cent were about anxiety over scarcity of food, especially during the nationwide lockdown last year.

The analysis further showed that 14.7 per cent callers reported feelings of anxiety, stress, depression and loneliness. A small 0.4 per cent of the callers also had suicidal thoughts, while 0.9 per cent reported domestic violence.

“We usually tell our counsellors to spend not more than 30-40 minutes on each call, but in the few instances where callers have spoken about wanting to end their lives, all such norms are waived. We spend as much time as the caller needs and help draw up a safety plan,” Kapoor said.

Another 14.1 per cent of the callers were anxious because of being stranded away from their family and their inability to return home.

Meanwhile, 6.1 per cent were looking for general information, 6.5 per cent were seeking financial assistance, 3.9 per cent sought medical help and 5.6 per cent were miscellaneous calls.

“We have also been getting a lot of calls regarding other resources, such as medical help and hospital beds. These were not strictly mental health-related issues, but the callers are already anxious, so we don’t turn them down. Our volunteers help them with the necessary numbers and information. The idea is to put the person at ease,” Joshi said.

The helpline has been getting 20-25 calls a day, though the number of callers had dipped between October and January when Covid cases had subsided.

(Edited by Rachel John)

First published by The Print on 25 Apr. 2021

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