Anxiety about long-drawn pandemic and lockdown restrictions trigger rise in distress calls

As Covid-19 impacted the lifestyle and wellbeing of people, the daily calls to state-run helpline 104 increased from 2000 to nearly 6000 since June, said the authorities.

The Maharashtra state-run helpline number 104 has received an average of 5000 distress calls daily during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the authorities. Other helplines run by hospitals and NGOs have also seen a rise in the number of calls by people suffering from anxiety and concerns stemming from Covid restrictions.

As Covid-19 impacted the lifestyle and wellbeing of people, the daily calls to state-run 104 helpline increased from 2000 to nearly 6000 since June, said the authorities. Sixty per cent of these calls are related to Covid 19 (98 per cent of the Covid calls are about vaccine information, registration, queries and 2 per cent about adverse effects following immunisation), 40 per cent are related to health advice, blood requirements, grievance and mental health in which anxiety and stress-related call are prominent.

The call centre, located at Pune’s Aundh general hospital, has been given a facelift in May this year and is a hybrid contact centre that provides a gamut of health care services. It has been operational for the last few years as part of a public-private partnership.

The state recently appointed Aditi Tracking Support Private Limited as the service provider and its director Chirag Rachh said, “We are ensuring efficient health care service to the community and reach to the people in the most interiors of the country, at the most critical times of their lives.”

The centre has recently been upgraded and is now a 29-seater with doctors, counsellors, specialist doctors, operations manager, auxiliary nursing midwives and other key personnel in the health care services available in three different duty shifts to answer calls.

Meanwhile, at Sassoon general hospital’s ManaSamvaad mental health helpline (020-26127331), authorities said that they are getting calls from people who are depressed due to the long-drawn pandemic.

Dr Niteen Abhivant, professor and head of the department of psychiatry at B J Medical College and Sassoon general hospital, said, “People have lost their jobs and returned to their native places – staying there for months together. We get calls from Beed, Kolhapur and other areas where economic hardship is acute. During the first wave, there were 15 calls daily while it has increased to 25 now. Most of the calls are related to unemployment-related stress, concern about children getting affected with Covid-19 and availability of vaccines.”

Authorities at Connecting Trust, an NGO that offers a non-judgemental listening service for those who are feeling low and distressed, also found that pretty much every second call was related to either one of anxiety around Covid-19, dealing with the loss of a loved one, anxiety about exams and results and concern over jobs. “The quality of calls have changed and it could be from new callers or old ones but it revolves around the pandemic. Strained relationships within families is also a concern for many,” said Vikram Sinh Pawar, recruitment and training in charge at the NGO. Connecting Trust can be reached at 9922004305/9922001122 or [email protected]

“The number of emails has gone up and we receive seven to eight fresh mails daily – showing that our reach has widened to states in south India and the northeast. The distress email facility and helpline numbers received 1036 calls and 276 emails between March to June this year. The number of long calls where people are sharing their stress anxiety concerns and emotional pain has gone up. For instance, in June 2020 there were 119 long calls while in June 2021 there were 193 long calls, that lasted for two to three hours,” Pawar said.

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