North civic body starts helplines for mental health issues from staying under lockdownUpdated: Mar 29, 2020 23:54 IST
The North Delhi Municipal Corporation has put together a team of qualified counsellors and set up helplines for people who have developed mental health issues, like anxiety and depression, from staying under lockdown for a prolonged period of time due to the Covid-19 epidemic.
The corporation has tied up with an NGO called ‘Vision Divyang Foundation’, which will coordinate with deputy commissioner (Keshavpuram) of the north body, Ira Singhal.
The mobile numbers of 11 counsellors (all holding masters’ degrees in psychology and PG diplomas in guidance and counselling) have been given out on the civic body’s Facebook and Twitter handles. Their services will be available till the lockdown lasts.
“In India, we lay a lot of emphasis on the physical health of individuals, but unfortunately, not as much on mental health. Even in jails, the biggest punishment is solitary confinement. So in a situation like this, where a population of over 130 crore people is under home quarantine, there’s bound to be emotional implications,” Singhal said.
Initially, the corporation had engaged the counsellors to talk to only Covid patients in hospitals, those under home quarantine and their family members.
“However, as the scale of the outbreak magnified and the Prime Minister announced a Janta Curfew on March 22, we decided to open the lines to everyone. Since Wednesday (when the lines went operational), we have received about 150 calls from all over India — Delhi, Agra, Muzaffarnagar and even Vijaywada,” said Mukesh Gupta, director, Vision Divyang Foundation.
Most queries have come from the elderly and outstation students living away from their families. “We got a call from a 70-year-old man saying his grandchildren were being kept away from him for the fear of them catching the disease and he was very upset about it,” said Ankit Gulati, a counsellor working on the helplines.
“We also got a call from a college girl, who stays in a paying guest accommodation, saying that all her roommates had left for their hometowns, but she couldn’t go. She said she was getting panic attacks sitting all alone in her room now,” said Shama Khan, another counsellor on the job.
The counsellors said that many callers had developed “apocalyptic thoughts” from watching TV news channels and social media. “One 50-year-old man called asking me if the world was coming to an end. He had seen a show on a Hindi news channel that said that an asteroid was about to hit the earth,” said Prabha Sharma, one of the counsellors.
Some counsellors also noted a deterioration in the condition of people with mental health issues already. “We got a call from the mother of a 40-year-old IT professional who suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The man, obsessively, keeps packing things like clothes and medicines. His mother said that it’s gotten worse now that he thinks coronavirus is spreading and we will all have to move to a safer place,” said Meenu Sharma, another counsellor.
Mukesh Gupta, coordinator of the counsellors, said they are, in general, asking all the callers to stay calm and engage in chores which give them joy. “We are telling them they will be absolutely safe if they follow government guidelines and we all will get over this (coronavirus) problem,” he said.
Helpline of AYUSH doctors to counsel on Yoga and diet
The north corporation has also deputed all its 68 practitioners from the AYUSH (Ayurved, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, Homeopathy and Naturopathy) department to counsel people regarding “how to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle during the lockdown.”
“Food options have become slightly curtailed at this time, and exercising in parks or gyms is also not possible. So we are getting a lot of queries regarding diet and meditation, especially from diabetics. Our doctors are strictly following the ‘Telemedicine’ guidelines laid down by the Ministry of AYUSH,” said Rashmi Singh, additional commissioner, north corporation.
The north body commissioner, Varsha Joshi, said the civic agency is trying to serve all its citizens through “non-contact methods. “Right now, it is difficult to visit clinics or hospitals. So telemedicine is a good way to go. I hope people find our initiatives useful,” Joshi said.
(Some mental health helplines are: 9810682881 and 9869972078 (available from 9 am to 1 pm) and 9313905550 and 9810958654 (available from 1 pm to 5 pm). Some of the AYUSH helpline numbers are: 9911033225, 9310650010 and 9958347743.