Now, mental health support is just a text away

Vandrevala Foundation to offer 24x7 counselling through SMS and WhatsApp messages

Published - January 02, 2019 12:36 am IST - Mumbai

For people grappling with mental health problems, help will soon be only a text message away.

The Vandrevala Foundation, a non-profit which started the city’s first 24x7 mental health helpline, will soon open a text messaging service, which will offer counselling through SMS and WhatsApp messages. The software and logistics for the ‘text helpline’ are in the final stages and the service is likely to begin in February.

Dr. Arun John, executive vice-president of the foundation, said, “When it comes to discussing mental health issues, it takes a lot of courage to talk about it. There are many people who freeze when counsellors pick up their call. At times, they are not calling from a conducive setting. A parent or a relative may have stepped into their room or there may be some other reason why they cannot talk freely on the phone. This is why we thought of having a crisis intervention text helpline, where the person in need can seek help in comfort. By doing an analysis of our calls, we have learned that most of the callers are in the 18 to 35 age group, who are very savvy with text messaging.”

The Vandrevala Foundation’s mental health helpline was operating from the city till 2015. The base was then shifted to Gujarat and expanded to two toll-free numbers: 18602662345 and 18002333330. Sixteen counsellors attend to the calls round-the-clock and the helplines, on an average, receive 80 calls. During the exam season, the helplines receives nearly 300 calls a day. Dr. John said, “Our teams have been working on activating the messaging service using the same helpline numbers. All logistics are being worked out and more than 90% of the work is done.”

Many mental health professionals keep in touch with their patients through text messages. Counselling through online chats is also catching up. Psychiatrist Dr. Harish Shetty, who uses WhatsApp to regularly keep in touch with his patients, said, “Text messaging feels non-threatening to people. One can text from anywhere and there are no limitations. There is also less probability of someone overhearing the conversation. Counselling through texts reduces the fear factor drastically. Helplines in our country are largely underutilised. People have to embrace this avenue for seeking help. Hopefully, text counselling will catch up faster.”

Expansion plans

Dr. John said they plan to provide counselling services in south Indian languages as they receive many calls from the region. He said, “Language becomes a problem at times. If we expand, we can employ counsellors who can speak the local languages.” Dr. John said the telephone bills of the helpline are massive and they have been reaching out to companies who can help through their Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. He said, “If we get help to at least cover the salaries of the counsellors, we can expand the service across the country.”

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