Coronavirus Pune: How helplines are multitasking during lockdown

Prajakta Joshi
Wednesday, 29 April 2020

“Almost 90 per cent of the phone calls that we receive are food and ration related. And these issues are leading to mental health problems like stress and insomnia,” said Karve Institute of Social Service (KISS) Centre for Mental Health and Disabilities Chairperson Prof Chetan Diwan.

Pune: Right from interrupted food supply to strained family relationships, phones have been ringing non-stop at various helplines that have been started during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“Almost 90 per cent of the phone calls that we receive are food and ration related. And these issues are leading to mental health problems like stress and insomnia,” said Karve Institute of Social Service (KISS) Centre for Mental Health and Disabilities Chairperson Prof Chetan Diwan.

Like Diwan, several other counsellors who have been operating such helplines since the beginning of lockdown have pointed out that lack of food supply along with strained family relationships as the two major factors shared by callers.

DISTRESS CALLS FOR FOOD
“Although our helpline was initially intended to address mental health issues, we have been taking several calls regarding scarcity of food and the fear of starvation. Economically backward sections of the society are finding it very difficult to sustain themselves in this lockdown, especially the second half of it,” Diwan said.

Adding that they are receiving calls from all parts of the state, Diwan said, “I was surprised to hear that people in rural areas are also facing this problem, as rural homes usually have food supplies stocked up. The urban poor callers including migrants, daily wagers and others are much worse. Although the government has instructed companies to pay salaries, several haven’t received any since March. People with infants have said that they have no money to buy milk. I have received calls from shopkeepers saying that their stocks have exhausted, but they have no way to get more supplies.”

Nandini Jadhav of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS) who also operates ‘Manobal’ helpline said that their helplines get at least around 25 calls each every day, and several are for food and other necessities.

“Along with food, issues of rent-payment, no income, and possibility of unemployment are leaving people distressed,” Jadhav said.

Diwan added, “More than Coronavirus, today, people are scared of starvation and unemployment. The migrants want to go back home. All of this is leading to stress, anxiety and insomnia.”

UNCERTAINTY AND QUESTIONS ABOUT VIRUS
“Anxiety stemming from the uncertainty about the future, frustration and boredom from staying home at all times, sadness, and insomnia are some of the issues people are calling our helpline for. People were not at all prepared for a situation like this, where they would have to sit at home doing almost nothing,” said Senior Psychiatrist Dr Krishna Kadam at Maharashtra Institute of Mental Health and Sassoon Hospital. Kadam is also the coordinator for the Man-Sanwad helpline operated by the hospital.

He added, “The virus is new, and people have many questions about it. Since we are a government helpline, people call us to ask about symptoms, treatment, etc. as well.”

STRAINED RELATIONSHIPS
Connecting NGO (Suicide Prevention Helpline) CEO Trupti Poduval told Sakal Times that the lockdown is resulting in problems in relationships.

“All the people are confined to their homes at all times. So we have been receiving some calls about the strained relationship dynamic. This was observed mostly in the latter half of the lockdown,” Poduval said.

She added that most calls received by the helpline operators reflect a general anxiety and uncertainty about what is going to happen next.

Jadhav also said, “We have received calls from mother-in-laws complaining about their daughter-in-laws incessantly. A wife called saying that she was fed up of finding her husband in front of her all the time, in a one-room house with a family of five. Family members of addicts are frustrated as addicts are showing withdrawal symptoms.”

LACK OF PRIVACY
However, Poduval also pointed out that there is a possibility that the numbers of calls on helpline are still less because of lack of privacy.

“Everyone is at home. So there must be several distressed who are not finding the time and space to call and talk about their issues. We usually see this problem during festival seasons as well,” she added.

On the other hand, Jadhav stated that if the lockdown extends, more counsellors will be needed to cater to the distressed people.

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