The woman on the other end of the line says,My phone may get disconnected any moment. It is running out of balance. Not unusual in the times of small-denomination recharge vouchers,you might think. Not so when the woman is holding a knife in one hand and her eight-month-old child in the other. She says,I dont know what to do in life.
Wasting no time,the speaker at the opposite end tells her to give her number. As soon as she dictates the number,the line gets disconnected.
Calls like this are usual for the the six-member team at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) helpline,iCAll.
Luckily,we got the womans number and called her back. She had marriage and career issues and had almost given up hope, says Dr Sujata Sriram,Chairperson of the Centre for Human Ecology (CHE) which has set up the helpline.
She added,Although ethically we cannot call up again and check on what happened to her,somehow we hope she got through as she had thanked our counsellor and said she was glad she called the helpline.
Helplines get calls from people of all ages facing psycho-social issues like relationship,parenting,depression,sexuality,infertility,exam stress,and career among other things. An initiative of CHE,iCall or Initiating Concern for All,is manned by trained clinical and counselling psychologists,unlike many others run by volunteers. iCall has received over 4,000 calls since it was set up in September 2012.
Team co-ordinator Paras Sharma says,Sometimes,we get calls on Valentines Day or New Years eve from people who are lonely.
With Class X and Class XII results announced recently,the helpline is flooded with calls from students,parents and even teachers.
Not only students who scored poorly,but also those who scored well,called up, says Sharma.
There was a girl who stood fifth in her college and was depressed because she did not come first, says Sharma,adding that the helpline rarely gives advice to callers.
Ideally,the job is to provide empathy. Counselling is not about advice. We believe everyone has the answers to their problems. They just need to find them. We are their sounding board, says Sharma.
The anonymity and confidentiality of helplines allow people to often discuss issues they may otherwise find tough to talk about.
Once,a person called us to tell us he liked to cross-dress. He did not need information. We heard him out and told him it is not a bad thing. He felt relieved, says Dr Sriram.
They receive calls from parents caught in a dilemma about the course their children should choose. There are children who call not just for education-related queries but also for advice on relationships,sexual harassment and incest.
Typically,a child will begin with a simple problem such as inability to concentrate on studies,but a counsellor usually figures out what he or she is trying to say. Sometimes,a child is being molested at home but does not know how to talk about it. In such cases,we talk to them and make them feel comfortable to address the issue, says Sharma.
The helpline has been set up to not only provide help to those at the other end,but eventually gather experiences for academic studies on patterns of psycho-social problems in society, says Dr Sriram.