In an extreme incident, indicative of rising mental health afflictions in society, a youngster ran out naked and fatally bit an old woman in Theni of Tamil Nadu. Many cases of domestic abuse during quarantine have hit headlines recently. What often goes unreported, though, are the less severe mental health issues arising from insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty among citizens in this 21-day lockdown period mandated by the central government to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.
You can hear of a variety of such cases if you talk to Resident Welfare Associations in Chennai. “A software engineer became silent and has had zero interactions with his family for days. In a different incident, a youngster knocked on the door of a neighbour at 2 am and requested him to talk. Women are feeling stressed due to the additional burden of domestic chores and office work,” said Harsha Koda, President of FOMRRA.
Hostility and discrimination add to woes
The magnitude of the problem is higher among those who have been home quarantined after returning from a foreign country or from an epicentre of the pandemic. 60,000 people are in active home quarantine in the state, and according to psychologists, the chances of them facing mental health issues are higher.
In an aim to reach out to such people, Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) has teamed up with the Loyola College to start a helpline. The two-week-old helpline is manned by 80 community volunteers who work for 13 hours a day in two shifts.
Another issue that has increasingly been evident is the ostracisation or bullying of people who have been home-quarantined due to possible exposure to the virus.“One of my neighbours verbally threatened to hit me if I come out. Members of my resident welfare association even asked the newspaper guy to stop delivery to our house. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what we go through,” says Kumar(name changed), a citizen who is under home quarantine since the last week of March, after returning from Delhi.
“Even the workers who deliver gas cylinders refuse to go to their houses. The patients and their families are undergoing a rough patch, with a few of them finding it tough to even get basic essentials such as food. Their suffering is unfair,” says Dr Gladston Xavier, who coordinates the GCC’s telecalling centre.
The main agenda of this psychosocial support centre is to remove the social stigma attached to patients. The centre calls close to 5000 home-quarantined citizens every day, focussing more on those who show symptoms of depression. “We call the neighbours of the patients and those under quarantine to educate them about community support,” Gladston Xavier added.
While the primary objective is to provide such support and create conditions for emotional well being, Gladston says that in some cases, they’ve also helped some quarantined people with logistical support — with supplies for example, by coordinating with the respective zonal office.
The volunteers pass on the information related to the physical illness to the doctors in the primary health centres, who visit and treat them.
In need of a listening ear
The lockdown has resulted in signs of depression emerging among all citizens, home-quarantined or not. “The first week of the lockdown was fine. But as I try to work from home with no monitoring and no one to talk to, I feel lost. My productivity has come down, due to which I feel a sense of insecurity,” says Ramani Nair, a content writer.
Rumours of a salary cut and the possibility of the lockdown being extended compounded the misery of Ramani, who is now seeing a therapist online.
In another case mentioned by Dr R Padmavati, director of the Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF), a 65-year-old woman, living alone for three years, started to panic after repeatedly watching news related to coronavirus. As her son is away in one of the countries where cases are on the rise, she was worried. Her anxiety levels shot up significantly.
Psychologists from SCARF are counselling such citizens in need of support through a helpline. It has been found that repeated telephonic sessions have helped the senior citizens come out of their depression.
Helpline numbers for psycho-social support
GCC – 044 46122300
SCARF – +91 7305928515.
Snehi – +91 9582208181
Contacts for groceries, medicine or cooked food
Bhoomika Trust – 044 46314726
Paul Pradeep – +91 9841166554
Moses Robinson – +91 9600143138
For details about the supermarkets, hospitals and medical shops, click here.
What can fellow citizens do?
- Understand that home quarantine is for safety. “The community needs to be educated through media to eradicate hostility towards citizens who have returned from foreign countries. Home-quarantined citizens are alone and depressed. It’s them today. It could be you, tomorrow. The war of the virus can be won with cooperation and adaptation,” says Dr Sylvia Daisy, Associate Professor, Social Work Department, Madras Christian College.
- Networking is important. If a citizen you know is under home quarantine or alone, engage them productively.
- Individuals could do a lot to help those in need. “Pick up stuff for other people when you go out to a shop. Walking on the terrace and having movie watching sessions with family are real stress-relievers. Learn to switch off the mobile for at least one hour a day,” says Dr Padmavati of SCARF.