Mumbai civic body helplines see rise in calls as Covid adds to anxiety, stress
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, helpline numbers for mental health counselling are seeing a rise in calls, with anxiety and adjustment issues topping the list.
In the past two months, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) helpline number — HitGuj – has received more than 2,000 calls. On a daily basis, the helpline number— 24131212 – used to get over 20 calls daily. But since the outbreak in March, the number has risen to 35 every day.
“Anxiety-related calls have increased by over 50%. Growing unemployment and loss of business have triggered mental ailments. Also, with the relaxation of lockdown, people are worried about going to office because of the fear of contracting the infection,” said Dr Amey Angane, assistant professor of the psychiatric department of the hospital.
The toll-free helpline number – 1800120820050—BMC-Mpower 1on1 has recorded 45,000 calls over the past two months since its launch. In April, BMC-Mpower 1on1 was launched as a collaboration between the government of Maharashtra and BMC with Mpower Foundation, which is an Aditya Birla Education Trust initiative. A majority of the concerns were related to safety, anxiety about stepping out of their homes, returning to work, commute, work-life balance, and their family and friends.
According to their data, 52% of the callers complained of anxiety, 22% had issues related to isolation and 11% showed symptoms of depression. While 5% of the callers had sleep-related complaints and the remaining 4% were for exacerbation of previous mental health concerns. On both the helpline numbers, the highest number of calls was between the age group of 25-40.
Due to restriction on movement of people to avoid any possible contraction of the virus, psychiatrists are witnessing rising cases of irritation and anger among people. “People are getting frustrated sitting at home. Also, the negative and fake news that circulated on social media, just worsens their mental health. Many young people are taking out their anger through bad behaviour at home which further increases the tension at home,” said Dr Sagar Mundada, a city-based psychiatrist.
Medicines prescribed by psychiatrists often fall under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act and in the category of Schedule 10 drugs. As a result, many medical stores refused to provide psychiatric drugs through digital prescriptions. This led to relapses of mental health issues among patients.
Dr Harish Shetty, a city-based psychiatrist who had written a letter to the Union Health Ministry on it, said, “These drugs are often abused that’s why so many restrictions have been imposed on prescribing it. But due to refusal to provide medicines through digital prescriptions, the level of anxiety, sadness and depression among existing patients has increased.”
The pandemic is also taking a toll on the mental health of teenagers due to limited socialisation and isolation. The effect is more among families with Covid cases.
Dr Nilanjana Goshwani, a developmental paediatrician, said, “When they know that a family member has contracted the infection, they often develop anxiety. They also start complaining of symptoms such as body pain, headache and some even develop fever.”