Anticipating that the global COVID-19 pandemic would heighten mental health issues among the populace, a group of volunteers from Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham came together to plan and launch a mental health helpline to serve people in this time of distress.
The helpline started to function on April 11, 2020 for those within and outside of Kerala, including other states and countries. The planning and logistics team established a telephonic network to function remotely, and a system by which to triage calls, according to the need and urgency, to higher-level professionals. Master of Social Work (MSW) students were trained as Helpline mental health workers. Within the first month we received 500+ calls of which more than 160 specifically pertained to mental health needs. Thus far, 58% of callers have been male and 42% female. The majority of callers have reported distress related to a combination of issues, such as the lock down, financial troubles, medical needs, worry about their family, medication needs, delusional experiences, and/or loneliness. The identified psychological issues included anxiety, sadness/depression, fear, loneliness, psychotic symptoms, suicidal ideation, substance abuse struggles, anger, and relationship discord. Many callers were referred for more ongoing work with higher level professionals. Many other callers expressed gratitude for the help they received from the Amrita Helpline.
As India’s lockdown issues began to subside in mid-2020, the helpline gradually paused in mid-August. However, in the first quarter of 2021 signs of a surging second wave, more severe than before, began to surface. The helpline started again with a primary focus on helping people to find urgently needed hospital beds, oxygen, medications, and other medical supplies. As there were also calls pertaining to mental health needs, the Helpline triaged such callers once more to our Mental Health Counselors. This continued on an “as-needed” basis.
NOTE: This article is updated with the latest information on September 12, 2022.