“It is like you win a lottery and you don’t know what to do with the money. The same way people have got lots of time and do not know how and where to invest this time.” Prof Meena Hariharan, Director, Centre for Health Psychology, at the University of Hyderabad, explains how everyone today is some or the other way a victim of coronavirus.
The last fortnight has been unusually busy for psychiatrists and mental health professionals, who are flooded with distress calls from men and women confined to their restricted spaces. Anxiety, stress, fear of consequences, loneliness, failure, uncertainty of career, and restlessness, etc are some of the complaints they seek professional solutions to. To this list, the COVID-19 pandemic has added a lack of trust among neighbours, friends, etc, evoking suspicion of disease. And the ongoing lockdown has also resulted in a spurt in alcohol withdrawal cases.
Notwithstanding the lockdown and travel restrictions, over 800 persons have reached out to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) at Erragadda in Hyderabad as out patients in the last two weeks seeking treatment to various issues. About 170 have been admitted.
Dr M Uma Shankar, superintendent, IMH, said the cases of alcohol withdrawal were initially on the rise but have subsided in the last few days. A lot of people facing mental health issues are unable to reach the hospital due to lack of transport. The hospital, the only mental health institute in the state, used to witness a footfall of 5 to 10 out patients and three to five. admissions every day. He has been receiving calls personally on how to handle the isolation and loneliness and feels that people need to just calm down and engage themselves productively at their homes.
Dr D Keshava Rao, a senior clinical psychiatrist and ex-president of Indian Psychiatrist Society-Telangana, feels though cases of coronavirus related anxiety or health anxiety are on the rise, a certain trend of rising in anxiety about the future is seen among businessmen. “Apart from health anxiety, people are getting worried about the future after lockdown. Businessmen, particularly, are worried about finances, remittances, how to kickstart their businesses, if the post-lockdown environment is suitable for business, etc,” said Rao, adding that one needs to look at the problem in realistic terms to find solutions.
If in distress, Dial 108
On the directions of the state government, the GVK-EMRI 108 Services have started attending to such distress calls from Friday. Speaking to indianexpress.com, P Brahmananda Rao, chief operating officer, said they expect a lot of calls from alcohol addicts. “Addicts do not know who to talk to or how to handle themselves or get cured. Only a counsellor can guide them to fight addiction. We help them with remedies and choices available in government facilities. Not all need to go to the hospital.”
According to him, as people are asked to remain in their homes it is very important to consider the effects of the pandemic on the mental health of people. Isolation, social distancing, the closure of schools; workplaces; entertainment are challenges that affect the people, and it is natural to feel stress, anxiety, fear and loneliness at this time, he said.
The GVK-EMRI call centre has started with five dedicated lines, with two shifts per day of 12 hours each. Five counsellors per shift are available at the moment. They are joined by two other experienced psychiatrists to address severe psychosocial behavioural cases. A pool of 53 counsellors have been trained especially at the Indian Institute of Health and Family Welfare, Hyderabad, and are working under NHM programme, maybe deployed if need be. These counselling services are also being extended to all medical and paramedical healthcare workers involved in the fight against COVID-19.
“We are expecting a lot of calls as the lockdown may be extended. With a rise in addiction cases, the government felt the need to extend 108 services as a COVID-19 response system for online mental health counselling and support during the pandemic,” added Rao.
Support for Emotional Rehabilitation of the Virus Victims (SERV)
A group of health psychologists and mental health workers have come together to initiate SERV (Support for Emotional Rehabilitation of the Virus Victims), a 24×7 call centre available at 9985010680. “SERV” is a joint initiative of the Association of Health Psychologists, Action Aid, Dr. Reddy Foundation-School Improvement Programme, AP-TS Social Service Forum.
Prof Hariharan, also president of the Association of Health Psychologists, said the aim is to provide emotional support for rehabilitation of Coronavirus victims through tele-counseling. A team of 130 trained volunteers from across the country, with years of experience in counseling, are currently working out of the Call centre based in Hyderabad.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, Prof Hariharan said tough the initiative took birth on March 19 it took a few weeks to take shape. “We must have been the first ones think of a helpline, envisaging that this was going to be a mental health problem. We wanted to be well equipped and trained to handle the situation. We took some time to mobilise the volunteers, develop the modules, train them, and set up the call centre, etc.”
The all-India call centre took off last week. The nature of distress calls range from conflicts within the family as people are forced to stay within the four walls, inability to manage children, quarantine and questioning oneself, fears of relatives of COVID-19 patients, domestic abuse, etc. At the moment, however, she feels, there is no need for a psychiatric intervention though they foresee such a situation soon.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines