A 2017 report published in the Lancet Psychiatry says depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, idiopathic developmental intellectual disability, conduct disorders, and autism are quite high in India. Financial insecurity, work-related stress and relationship issues are the major triggers of mental illnesses. But due to various stigmas attached to it, such patients hardly come out in the open. Now with COVID-19 inundating the entire world, the cases of mental illnesses are globally seeing a rise.
In a bid to help people deal with mental illnesses, several NGOs and organisations working in the field of healthcare have joined hands and set up a multi-party initiative called Wellbeing Volunteers United (WVU). You can avail free counselling anywhere in India by dialling its helpline number 1800-121-0980.
As of now, there are 450 volunteers of which 150 have already been trained (through zoom calls, PDF scripts and mock calls) in handling distressed callers. The service is available in Hindi, English, Gujarati and Marathi, and volunteers from other languages are also being roped in.
The multi-party collective is supported by the Goa State Government, Maharashtra State Commission for Women (MSCW) and Maharashtra Human Rights Commission (MHRC). A number of organisations and NGOs like Poddar Foundation, YMCA, Rotary District 3141, Inner Wheel, Elevation Barn, LiFE WiNS, Make It Happen, EmancipAction India Foundation, Rotary Club of Bombay, Inner Peace University, Priyadarshini Academy, Red Swastik, FicciFlo Mumbai, as well as the Rotoract District 314, have already joined in.
“Mental health is a huge, yet understated challenge in India and is commonly prevalent in all age groups. The 2015-16 National Mental Health Survey says at least 10 million 13 to 17-year-olds have mental health problems, while 9.8 million adolescents need active intervention. Nearly half the elderly population go through mental health challenges. This United effort is the only way to uplift the spirit of India,” says Dr Prakriti Poddar, Managing Trustee, Poddar Foundation, who initiated the collective.
Dr Poddar further says that the cases of women abuse and incest have risen since lockdown as people are now confined to their spaces. “There is no escape. Staying inside home is not all the comfortable for people living in small one-room sets, particularly where the man of the house is alcoholic or wife/child beater. Then there is a huge section of youth who cannot meet their girl/boyfriend. These are the people who need to be taken care of,” she adds.
“First, our trained WVU volunteer handles the distress caller. And if the situation is serious, the call is escalated to a psychiatrist,” says Dr Kersi Chavda, Psychiatrist, PD Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai. The WVU also has a global helpline, though international rates apply on it 9999720986. “I am sure the collective will serve as a beacon of light for the rest of the world as well. India gave the world yoga and meditation, and now we teach them how to collectively care for the mental health of our fellow citizens, after all, we belive in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,” says Dr Poddar, adding, “We want more state governments to talk about it. It is a free but much-needed service.”