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Telepsychiatry: How NMMC is reaching out to those cured & quarantined

Mental health experts said a pandemic can affect people in different ways. The constant discussion about the virus, the worry of what-if-we-are-next, the incertainties of the future, and the forced confinement at home are affecting mental health.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Mumbai | Published: April 13, 2020 11:58:36 pm
An initiative by Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC), since April 6, around five or six persons hold lengthy phone conversations with counsellors every day. (Representational Image)

The woman at the other end of the line said she has eaten only ‘pav’ since her discharge from hospital. “I don’t feel like cooking for just myself,” she told the psychiatrist speaking to her on the phone. While her entire family had tested positive for COVID-19, she was the first to recover and return home. But all by herself, she had lost the urge to eat.

This is how, with the help of telepsychiatry, psychiatrists are reaching out to cured COVID-19 patients and their affected families to heal the rupture coronavirus has left in their lives.

An initiative by Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC), since April 6, around five or six persons hold lengthy phone conversations with counsellors every day. For counselling, NMMC has roped in KEM hospital’s psychiatry department.

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Dr Shubhangi Parkar, head of psychiatry department, KEM hospital, said: “More than the infection, the fear of it is affecting people’s mental health.”

She talks to those in quarantine, their family members as well as those who had recovered from the infection.

To this woman, who last week got discharged and remains alone at home, the psychiatrist explained how eating right will keep her immunity strong. “I told her to be happy, that she and her family will be saved. A small conversation at such times helps,” Parkar said.

The psychological counselling began after patients showed signs of anxiety. Dr Ujwala Oturkar, from NMMC health department, said they were seeing people under institutional and home quarantine slip into depression. “Staying put at one place for 14 days with nothing else to do in an institutional quarantine is affecting people. We decided to start with counselling four to five people each day.”

Read| Explained: The cost of COVID-19 on mental health, and what experts recommend for dealing with it

Mental health experts said a pandemic can affect people in different ways. The constant discussion about the virus, the worry of what-if-we-are-next, the incertainties of the future, and the forced confinement at home are affecting mental health.

“We cannot physically reach everyone due to social distancing, so a telephone call is the only means to help them. I ask them to indulge in something that will make them happy,” Parkar said.

Attempts to start something similar in Kasturba hospital, the nodal centre for COVID-19 testing and treatment in Mumbai, are on. Some patients have told psychiatrists they fear discrimination after being discharged, some are worried about fatality, and some are panicking because the virus has captured the world’s attention. In many cases, patients feel they are being looked down upon, as if they have committed a crime.

Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: What can cause a COVID-19 patient to relapse after recovery? | COVID-19 lockdown has cleaned up the air, but this may not be good news. Here’s why | Can alternative medicine work against the coronavirus? | A five-minute test for COVID-19 has been readied, India may get it too | How India is building up defence during lockdown | Why only a fraction of those with coronavirus suffer acutely | How do healthcare workers protect themselves from getting infected? |

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