LUCKNOW: Days after he returned from Surat as part of the migrant exodus, Sukesh Kant, 50, who hails from Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri district, tried to end his life by jumping in front of a train. Luckily, he was saved by a whisker. His job at a textile mill in Gujarat’s Surat was the sole source of sustenance. Then lockdown happened, the mill was closed and he lost his job. With a family of eight to feed, he was already in dire straits.
In Kanpur Dehat, Brijendra Gupta tried to commit suicide by drinking pesticide but was fortunately saved. He had been working as a security guard in Delhi but lost his job, so he was forced to return home. His is a family of seven, including four children and an ill mother.
He said though there was wheat and rice at home sourced from the local ration shop, he was unable to buy other essential commodities and medicines for his mother.
Sukesh Kant and Brijendra Gupta are just two of the thousands of migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh under enormous mental strain after having lost their jobs amid the pandemic.
Cash crunch due to job loss along with the scare created by the pandemic and a sense of abandonment has pushed many into depression. Unable to make peace with the situation, some have even taken the extreme step of taking their own lives.
Seeking psychological counselling does not come naturally to the poor in India. Yet, 37,681 migrant workers — 30,828 males and 6,853 females — have been extended psychological support so far across UP, says Dinesh Kumar, Child Protection Officer, Unicef.
These numbers are perhaps the tip of the iceberg. Around 35 lakh migrant workers from different parts of the country have returned to Uttar Pradesh since the start of the lockdown.
The Unicef is partnering with the state government to provide quick intervention, sending teams of experts comprising practicing psychologists, psychiatrists, and academicians working in psychology across the state.
The counsellors for Mental Health and Psychological Support, as they came to be known, functioned along with workers of the National Health Mission.
A study conducted recently by a team of experts from the Indian Psychiatry Society (IPS) found that there has been an almost 20% rise in mental health issues during the pandemic. Anxiety issues also came up in families of those whose children were stranded elsewhere.
One day, the helpline got a call from a migrant from eastern UP, who was facing acute depression. The attending psychologist calmed him down and tried to restore his confidence, said a senior official of the labour department, the nodal agency for ensuring psychological support to migrant labourers.
According to officials, the contact details of the professionals, shared with the public through the district magistrates, were their personal numbers. Such details were shared so as to move beyond “helplines” and give a “personal touch” to the counselling.
Narrating the plight of the migrants, one of the counsellors said many of them had fears that the lockdown would continue forever.
On April 2, the state government directing mental health workers to counsel those housed in relief camps and quarantine centres. A helpline number 1800-180-5145 was launched. Also, district magistrates of all 75 districts were sent contact details of 75 counselors to be made available to the public.