Retired banker Anmol* and his wife were stunned to see their neighbours in their flat near Mangaluru treat them with contempt ever after their return from Dubai a few weeks back. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, panic seemed to have overtaken the neighbours who even called up their daughter to complain about the old couple, who are in home quarantine, when they come out onto the front yard.
Faced with this ‘ostracisation’ and as fear and panic surrounds COVID-19 spread, the couple under home quarantine due to their recent travel history, sought help from a counselling programme called Sahay offered by Mano Samvaada and SOCHARA. The free counselling service has been rolled out for those quarantined and their families.
Talking to The Federal, Akshara Damle, consultant psychologist, and founder of Mano Samvaada, discusses the plight of people like Anmol, face.
“There is a lot of anxiety that they go through during a pandemic like COVID-19. To make things worse for them, their whole neighbourhood watch them with fear, whenever they are seen in their balcony. And this is at a place near Mangaluru in Karnataka where people are educated,” she says.
If Anmol and his wife have stigma and public boycott pushing them to the verge of depression, there are people like Mumbai-based Vijay*, who just returned from Zimbabwe. Working in the financial services sector, Vijay has been all alone in home quarantine, with his wife away at her native village and has had to deal with working from home and complete loneliness. His only respite is the limited interaction he has with his complex’s watchman who buys for him essential items.
For all these people, along with the constant fear and stress of potentially being infected, there are factors like loneliness that make the quarantine period an ordeal.
“Vijay has been working from home and without any company. With no interaction, even though he has no symptoms of the disease, he is still unable to sleep at night,” Damle says.
She explains that with the different kinds of distresses, physical illness and social trauma faced by people, some turn to spiritual questions.
Sahay is aiming to reach out to those diagnosed with COVID-19, people quarantined either because of travel history, family members of those diagnosed and quarantined and health workers.
The sessions which are available from 8 am to 8 pm starting March 29, are being offered by 12 counsellors who are fluent in English, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi. Listening to the stories of those under quarantine, they are offering solace with practical guidance and alleviating their fears.
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Thiruvananthapuram-based Indian Systems of Medicine has launched an Ayurveda counselling service ‘Hello My Dear Doctor’ to address psychological issues that might crop up among those under quarantine.
Dr Siddhi Vijayakrishnan, a senior medical officer with the Kerala government, says that the concerns and anxiety are uniform across age groups.
“I have received calls from those in the adolescent age group and young working population below 30 years. In some, there is a fear of death or suicidal thoughts, while some are worried about the duration of the pandemic. Along with these concerns, some also have queries on food, medicine and things they should do if they have symptoms.”
Dr Siddhi adds that a large part of the fear is driven by social media, with all kinds of videos being circulated. “A good number of these are not real and we try to explain that to them, separate fact from exaggeration and fiction,” she said.
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Starting next month, Chennai Counsellors Foundation which has about 60 registered counsellors will begin cousnelling sessions through their helpline, from 9 am to 9 pm.
Saras Bhaskar, co-founder of the foundation says, “With a team of trained and practising psychologists, we will reach out to those who have been diagnosed of COVID-19 and the suspects under quarantine, who can discuss their anxiety and fear with us. We will have four sessions each for them in a week as short-term therapy.”
Saras observes that trauma counselling is the need of the hour, and the approach will be about adjusting to the changes. “With people working from home, the unexpected lockdown may trigger irritability, restlessness and anger that shouldn’t get directed at family members in a wrong way. We need to strengthen family relationships and encourage sharing and caring at this hour,” she says.
Here are some of the helpline numbers:
Ayurveda Help Desk: 9447963481, 9495148480, 9400523425, and 9142417621.