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Life in the time of social distancing: Confined in homes, people battle restlessness, anxiety

A clerk in a law firm in Fort says that for 30 years he has only known to leave for work at 7 am from his Dombivali home and return at 9.30 pm.

Many in Indian cities are showing signs of restlessness, lack of preparedness and anxiety over being at home, a few taking to calling helplines. (Express photo)

A housewife struggling to find solitary space in the one-room house she shares with six others, a clerk restless without his regular schedule, a teenager unable to find escape among friends from domestic conflict between his parents, a queer person whose way of life is not approved by the family, are some of the challenges faced by many in the city, confined in the four walls of their homes due to the spread of COVID-19.

A clerk in a law firm in Fort says that for 30 years he has only known to leave for work at 7 am from his Dombivali home and return at 9.30 pm. “Apart from vacations in my native town with my family, I have not spent so much time with my family at home. After a point, it is difficult to know what to do with all this time,” he says.

“My father always keeps asking me to focus only on academics and feels that my love for dance is a distraction. It is fine to hear him talk about it once a day, but since we both are home due to shutdown of his office and my college, I have to constantly hear him talk about it. I usually feel good when I am with my dance group, but we have not been able to meet now,” says a teenager from Navi Mumbai.

Many in Indian cities are showing signs of restlessness, lack of preparedness and anxiety over being at home, a few taking to calling helplines.

“Sixty per cent of the sessions we are addressing in a day are about COVID-19, where people are either anxious about the virus and their well-being or about other issues related to being confined to their homes,” says Tanuja Babre, programme coordinator of iCall, a telephone and email-based counselling service of Tata Institute of Social Sciences. These responses, a maximum of them between the age group of 11-30 years, include assistance sought by youngsters whose parents are not agreeing to remain confined in homes, parents not used to spending so much time managing their children at home as well as issues related to domestic conflicts over a trouble relationship with a family member.

Babre adds that for many the shutdown has meant being confined in one room kitchen or even smaller homes with their entire families, with no usual escape or social support among friends or colleagues, with them unable to even make a phone call without being eavesdropped on. Others have sought help with feeling low self-esteem as they are not at their workplace. With social media abuzz suggesting Netflix or learning a new hobby, Babre says that itself is a not a sustainable option for many.

The nature of the responses, received in eight languages, English, Marathi, Konkani, Gujarati, Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil and Bengali, also differs from smaller cities to metropolitan ones, with the latter being more anxious about job cuts and salaries due to COVID-19. The team of counsellors has been referring to guidelines by WHO and UNICEF on the impact of the spread of virus on mental health, with many countries also having seen similar issues during shutdowns.

“Technology has emerged as a major factor, where we are suggesting people to try and access their usual support systems through phone calls or video calls. The anxiety is also because people do not know for what duration this is going to continue,” Babre says.

“Social media is abuzz with videos of home-bound Italians coming out to their balconies to play music to feel a sense of community amidst social isolation. I was wondering what all that was about but now I get it. While we would always look forward to holidays, this is the first time that I am looking forward to getting back to work,” says a 24-year old IT professional, who is working from home with two of her roommates.

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