Caritas worker Shimray Mungreiphy has been startled by how much the lockdown has affected people’s mental health in India.
Mungreiphy has been with Caritas India for the past 22 years. She is one of the agency’s most senior operation managers. Now as the country of 1.2 billion people battles the new coronavirus, she heads a team of mental health experts taking calls via a helpline.
For the past several weeks, she has been conducting phone consultations with anxious people uncertain about their future.
“From 9 in the morning till 5 in the evening, we receive calls from people of different age groups and listen to their agonies,” she said.
“It is through this helpline that we first get to know their mental state and then we evaluate the necessary counseling the individual requires,” said the 43-year-old.
The ongoing lockdown, now over a month long, has hit people’s ability to make a living which has given rise to an epidemic of stress and depression, she said.
Some 140 million people have lost their jobs since the lockdown, said the Centre for the Monitoring of Indian Economy (CMIE). Prospects for the quick rebound in the job market post COVID-19 also appear slim, CMIE said.
Mungreiphy’s efforts have been a part of the Caritas India program aimed at providing psycho-social support to those in need ever since the government imposed the lockdown put in place nationwide on March 2.
“We get calls from migrant workers who are stuck in cities and are unable to move towards their villages,” Mungreiphy said offering an example of the problems faced by those phoning in.
“There are people who are lone breadwinners in their families and are frustrated over the loss of livelihood,” she added.
“They are scared about what the future has in store for them and are subtly developing the symptoms of depression.”
She said that the counseling helped people see a light at the end of tunnel and through that will hopefully “remain optimistic amid the present pandemic.”
Father Paul Moonjely, Caritas India’s executive director, said that all age groups have been calling the helpline, wanting to speak with councilors for psychosocial support.
People find they have no avenue to vent their feelings, Father Paul said.
“Domestic violence is on the rise and there are reports of some people committing suicides,” he said.
Anam Qayium, who is part of a Caritas helpline team, said she received a call from a distressed young girl who had been developing suicidal tendencies since the lockdown began. The girl felt imprisoned and caged in her home.
“In most parts of India people have just one or two-room apartments which they call home,” Qayium said.
“There are no gardens, verandas, or the foyers where they can even relax. A situation like as the present one was completely alien to the people till now,” she said. “Staying encaged naturally plunges a person into distress.”
The girl received professional counseling and had follow-up sessions, which Qayium said is yielding positive results.
“When people call us, we allow them to express their feelings without any interruption from our side,’ Qayium said.
“As we assure confidentiality to the caller, they open up about the issues they face like the fear of losing a job, failing to pay for a house loan, or simply not able to meet friends and have fun,” she said.
“Most of the callers feel relaxed the movement they express their feelings in detail and we allow them to speak of the issues they face without any hindrance,” she said.
Father Paul said that more than 32,000 calls have been made to the helpline so far. These calls have been received by 174 Caritas partner organizations.