Mumbai: Lockdown distress? There's a number you can call

Mumbai: Helping a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law understand that this is no time for 'saas-bahu' strife but a period of adjustment, used to be a tough task even in the pre-lockdown era. But this is exactly what more than 500 volunteers, professional counsellors and 20 doctors doing, smiling as they do so.

On an average, these volunteers answer around six calls an hour, which works out to roughly 150 calls a day. The calls range from family disputes to anxiety and stress brought on by the abruptly announced 21-day lockdown, compelling many to be thrown into the company of those they can barely tolerate, for days on end.

The volunteers respond to calls on 18001210980, a toll-free helpline set up by an NGO, the Wellbeing Volunteers United (WVU), in collaboration with the Maharashtra State Commission for Women (MSCW).

According to Aastha Luthra, member secretary, MSCW, the phone has been practically ringing off the hook daily, since it was set up one week ago. "It's been only a week since we floated this helpline number and the response is huge," said Luthra.

"We get calls from people stressed due to the lockdown. There are also some who are suffering from anxiety. Then there are calls about domestic violence and child abuse," Luthra said, adding that in the latter cases, the NGO takes the help of police.

The number was initially made available for Maharashtra but news of its existence went viral on social media and people began calling from across the country.

"Initially, we offered help only in Hindi, English, Marathi and Gujarati. But then we started getting calls from Punjab and the southern states. So now, we have added even Punjabi and Tamil to our repertoire, so that callers can speak in their mother tongue," said Kinshuk Hora, 52, a Delhi resident, who is overseeing the process.

"When someone calls, they are initially connected to our trained counsellor, who is not a professional. If the counsellor feels the caller needs professional help, they connect the caller to the professional counsellors on our panel," Hora said.

"And if the professionals think the caller needs to be referred to a doctor, we can help with that too, as we have some 20 of them on our panel," Hora added.

However, said Hora, they do not offer solutions to the callers. "We are not a corona helpline or those offering solutions to the problems of callers. We just speak to them and make them understand what the problem is and help them work out a solution," he said.

"For instance, we get domestic dispute calls. We explain the situation prevailing outside and help them find a solution amicably," Hora added.

The physically lockdown also has had a considerable psychological impact on many who have been cooped in for so many days.

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