Sassoon General Hospital, the largest state government-run hospital in Maharashtra, has reported 108 cases of suicide during nearly three months of lockdown. While 29 cases were reported in April, the figure increased to 40 in May and 39 by mid-Jun.
Dr Naresh Zanjad, head of the Department of Forensic Medicine at B J Medical College and Sassoon General Hospital, said, “Usually, in a month, 20-25 suicides by hanging are reported on an average, and our data shows a rise during the lockdown period”.
While there are different reasons for the increase in the number of suicides by hanging, experts say even the lockdown has had direct and indirect effects. Job losses and relationship issues were among the major reasons, and this is borne out by the high number of distress calls made to both government and private mental health helplines in the city during the lockdown period.
The mental health helpline run by Sassoon General Hospital, `Manasamvad’, was set up on March 31 to address increasing concerns related to Covid-19 and offer counselling to even doctor and paramedical staff. The helpline has been getting an increasing number of distress calls, said hospital authorities. “From 15 calls per day initially, the number has risen to more than 25. Not just the city and surrounding areas, but people call us from various parts of the state,” said Dr Niteen Abhivant, head of psychiatry department, B J Medical College and Sassoon General Hospital.
The helpline received several calls from housewives who live in Solapur, Sangli, Yavatmal and Parbhani, and are worried about the financial problems and day-to-day struggles of meeting costs during the pandemic. “They were extremely worried about the future,” said Dr Abhivant.
The doctor and his team of psychiatrists also counsel Covid-positive patients who are currently receiving treatment in the isolation and ICU wards of Sassoon General Hospital. “Due to the nature of the disease, the patients have to be isolated… they only have telephonic interaction with their family members, so they often feel very lonely. Here, our team talks to them for at least 45 minutes to an hour and the aim is to let them talk. We try to cover as many patients as possible, especially as there are several who are highly stressed and feel that the disease is a death sentence,” said Dr Abhivant.
According to the state-run Emergency Medical Services, the 108 ambulance service has responded to 3,569 calls pertaining to intoxication, poisoning, self-inflicted injuries/suicides between March and May-end. At least 103 out of the 3,569 calls were due to self-inflicted injuries/suicides.While the service saw 22 emergencies due to self-inflicted injuries in April across the state, the figure climbed to 39 in May, said Dr Dyaneshwar Shelke, chief operating officer of the service.
At the state-run ‘104’ health advice call centre, however, the number of calls dropped. Niraja Banker, senior manager of operations, said between March and April, they received approximately 8,000 to 10,000 calls, while in May they received between 4,000 to 5,000 calls.
The queries mainly pertained to understanding coronavirus disease, its symptoms, duration of the quarantine period, where to get throat swabs tested, and availability of food and transport during the lockdown. “Since calls on mental health issues also get routed through the helpline, we helped counsel some people. But the calls pertaining to anxiety got handled at the paramedical and doctors’ level,” said Banker.
From March 18 till May 31, Connecting NGO, an organisation that works towards suicide prevention, received a total of 302 distress calls. According to Liyaan Sataravala, programme coordinator, the helpline handled various types of distress calls, as well as an increasing volume of distress emails.
“While the organisation received about 15 distress mails per month before the pandemic, it received 26 emails in May,” said Sataravala. The callers spoke about family issues due to the lockdown, job-related anxiety, relocation, business losses and paranoia over Covid-19 news. “We counselled the callers that it was okay not to be okay, and that they do not need to reach that breaking point to ask for help,” she said.
Numbers that can help:
Emergency Medical Services: 108
State-run health helpline: 104
Connecting NGO: 9922004305/9922001122
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines