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Delhi govt's counselling service fails to aid frontline workers

IANS | July 17, 2020 12:04 PM

NEW DELHI: The Delhi government's psychiatric tele-counselling service, "Samarthan", for doctors, health care and frontline workers battling against the COVID-19 pandemic, is struggling hard to find takers just within a month of its launch. On an average, the number of people calling the helpline service for the counselling is less than one in a day.

In the last thirty days, only 20 people have availed the service. As per the records, 12 doctors are volunteering to provide the tele-counselling. This means no counsellor has attended even two calls in the whole month. The officials stated that a number of factors were behind the inadequate response the helpline has received. The stigma attached to seeking mental help and insufficient publicity of the service are the significant reasons restricting people from availing the counselling service.

The service was launched on June 17 in collaboration with the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS). Besides, the Delhi Medical Association (DMA), Delhi Medical Council (DMC), and the Delhi Psychiatric Society also have collaborated for this cause. The service was started to help the frontline workers cope with the stress and anxiety as coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on their mental health.

The helpline is available Monday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The callers could access it by dialling +91 9868396802 or +91 9868396859.

Professor Nimesh Desai, Director of the IHBAS, which is coordinating the tele-counselling service, said the frontline workers are not aware of the helpline which is limiting them to access the service. "They (frontline workers) don't know if any such thing exists. In a distressing time like this, they need counselling and support which they cannot avail only because they are unaware of it, " he said.

Besides, Desai also pointed out that the majority of the frontline workers deny the possibility that they could have mental health issues and show unwillingness towards seeking out any psychiatric help. The reason behind this unwillingness is the fear of stigma. "They are more concerned about the impression they would make on their colleagues, friends and family about taking psychiatric help. So they refuse to accept that they could face any depression or anxiety. While the fact is, the level of stress they deal with in their strenuous jobs, they are pretty vulnerable to develop the anxiety and depression, " he explained.

Desai added that had the government tried to publicise the service, more people would have sought psychiatric help.

"Frontline workers are reeling under immense pressure. There is risk in performing the duty and concern of the safety of their family and loved ones. Severe stress and anxiety are becoming common among the fraternity. If this situation is not dealt with on time, they may also start to develop suicidal tendencies. This is the time they need expert help to get out of self-harm thoughts and stay motivated. Our service can save lives, " he added.

Doctor Girish Tyagi, president of the DMA, said that his association would approach the government and request to start a campaign for the promotion of the tele-counselling service. The government needs to register the presence of the service in the minds of the frontline workers so that whenever they feel distressed, they know where to seek the psychiatric help, " he said.

While the tele-counselling service is open to all the frontline workers, including police and the journalists, only health care workers have turned up to avail it so far. The doctors said that the callers had shared fear of exposure to self and transmitting to family after prolonged working hours and issues with the quality of masks and PPE kits being provided.

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