The pandemic has caused trauma to people's mental health. With more restrictions put in place due to the surge in COVID cases, there has been in increase in distress calls to the helpline numbers.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in coordination with National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS) Bengaluru, started a national toll-free helpline last year during the onset of the coronavirus.
The helpline operates in 12 different languages to cater to the diversity of citizens and is working round-the-clock. It has five different categories, namely, children, women, adults, senior citizens and health care workers.
Dr Sanjeev Kumar M, Assistant Professor at Centre for Psychosocial Support in Disaster Management, NIMHANS, Bengaluru in conversation with ANI said, "This time around, majority of calls have been about issues related to medical care. For the first time, people are distressed about not getting oxygen, not getting beds."
"To address such callers, we have a list of helpline numbers of different states across the country. We try to connect them to local agencies or departments of the state," he added.
Speaking about a fairly recent case, he said, "I received a call from a 24 year old. He had pre-existing mental illness and needs treatment. Due to the current situation of COVID, he could not go get the required treatment. He had isolated himself, was not able to eat or work and was very anxious. We connected him to a local doctor who had a tele-counselling session with him and sent an online medical prescription so that he can continue his medication course."
Elaborating further on the kinds of calls received, Dr Sanjeev said, "We have noticed three types of calls: logistic issues, psycho-social issues and pre-existing mental health problems."
"Logistic issues are resolved within 1-2 minutes, but psycho-social problems, for which the helpline was put in place, take about 10-15 minutes. We do a lot of follow up calls depending on the circumstances of the affected individual, for instance, in cases like anxiety, depression, worry, etc. Such problems cannot be resolved over one session. Since everything is uncertain, the call exchange may prolong depending on the continuity of the situation."
According to Nidhi, clinical psychologist, the doctors on this helpline answer 20-25 calls on an average per day. She has been volunteering for this initiative for over an year.
Meanwhile, acknowledging the need for psychological support, Manasthali, a private Gurugram-based mental health clinic, has recently started a helpline service from 8 am to 8 pm. Founder-Director Dr Jyoti Kapoor built a team of 16 doctors comprising psychologists, therapists, and social workers to counsel people in significant distress via phone consultation and counselling. Offering first two sessions of 20 minutes each, free of charge, the callers are required to book a slot in advance, which can be extended depending on the availability of psychologist/therapist.
In an interview with ANI, Dr Jyoti Kapoor informed that Manasthali receives 5-10 calls on an average per day.
The service is aimed at addressing the following issues related to distress associated with COVID pandemic, anxiety related to COVID spread, doubts related to COVID transmission, treatment and vaccination, emotional and behavioural problems stemming out of restrictions related to pandemic and lockdown, overwhelming feelings related to sickness and death among family and loved ones due to COVID-19.
"There have been many calls regarding stress and anxiety due to unavailability of beds and oxygen. We try to help. Arushi, who works at a COVID facility in Gurugram is coordinating with us and has been of immense help with it comes to providing medical facility," she said.
"There have been a number of cases related to COVID induced stress, even from people who have had COVID infection in the past," she added.
Speaking about a recent case that she dealt with, Dr Jyoti described, "A mother of a 16-year-old son had called expressing concern for her child who had withdrawn from the family. He barely spoke. On closer assessment of the child, it was declared that he was suffering from depression due to the current COVID scenario and had been neglecting it. We took the case seriously and handled the child. He is doing much better now."
"We provide a safe space for people to talk because many a time people ignore their mental health and the behaviour associated with it. It is important that people get this space so that their mental health can be analysed," said Dr Jyoti.
If you need support or know someone who does, please call on the following mental health helpline numbers:
1. 080-46110007, GoI (Toll free; 24x7 helpline service)
2. 9958836867, Manasthali (call or WhatsApp between 8 am - 8 pm)