by Father Brian Moras for BISMumbai

Mumbai Salesians' Prafulta Centre for Psychological Wellness located at the Dominic Savio Andheri Educational Campus has, since the start of the COVID-19 Lockdown till date, over the last 02 months, in association with NGO Project Mumbai started 03 Helplines and initiated another one. The helplines are:

1. Counselors-on-Call: started on 22 March with 45 counselors, responding in 07 languages, receiving 158 calls till April end.

2. Special Needs Therapists: started on 25 March with 33 Special Educators and Occupational Therapists, responding in 05 languages, having received 44 calls till April end.

3. Samvaad: supported by the Tribal Commission of the State of Maharashtra and inaugurated by Chief Minister Udhav Thackeray on 19 April with 70 counselors, in 03 languages - Marathi, Hindi and English, on the toll-free number [1-800-102-4040] to benefit people in rural Maharashtra, receiving 500 calls till April end.

Another Helpline initiated by a medical professional Dr. Minal Shah, reaches out to other doctor-caregivers working with COVID-19 infected. This Counselors-for-Caregivers began on 16 April with 06 Senior Counselors.

The brief 'audio only' counseling sessions [15-20 minutes] are intended to listen, empathize, pick up callers' emotions [fear/anxiety/helplessness/anger/frustration/sadness/depression/boredom/hopelessness, etc.], address the emotions, help the callers to talk about their feelings, bring their feelings under control by searching for options with specific workouts [1 or 2 things to do] and suggest helpful guidelines. Some of the guidelines provided invite the callers to: get into a routine, stay connected with people, avoid watching too much news/updates, self care [sufficient rest, eat healthy, engage in physical activity, avoid alcohol, relax], and maintain a gratitude Journal.

These helplines accompany callers to address some emotional issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, such as - threatened basic security increasing fear and anxiety with questions like: Will I get infected? Am I a carrier? Will I pass on the infection to my family members? How will I manage if I am quarantined? Will I lose my job? How will I manage without a job? What about payment of mortgage/EMIs/loans? Would I get to see a doctor if I fall sick? and If sick, would I be able to get admitted to a hospital and be treated?

Other issues faced are also addressed, such as: uncertainty about the Future bringing about a feeling of helplessness with questions like: how long will this pandemic last? Will life ever come back to ‘normal’? My son/daughter/wife/husband… is elsewhere. When will we be together? My exams are postponed. When will I complete them? Will there be sufficient food for me and my family? Is my money in the bank safe? Anger for this situation; quarrels/violence at home; and collapse of small businesses.

Counselors from each of the groups, through a Zoom Conference [when occasion demands], assess the situation and address any problem that comes up for particular clients. Counselors also have lists of various food and other relief Helplines. Expected to be kind and understanding at all times, a few psychiatrists are also on call, in case medication is to be prescribed. This tie up with a few State Commissions [Tribal, Food, Migrants, etc.] ensures a much bigger reach out, as is evident by the number of calls received far outnumbering the State Helpline numbers.