Everyday, at noon, 26-year-old Malhar Joshi waits for the doorbell of his Pune home to ring. It is the tiffin service delivery person dropping off his lunch. Through a grill door, he exchanges pleasantries. The two-minute talk with the delivery man is the only human interaction Malhar has had for over a month now.
“Being stuck at home alone is about the safest thing now. But it always weighs on the mind that I don’t have anyone to interact with, face to face. Video or phone calls are not always the best substitutes. And because I had anxiety issues in the past, they are cropping up again. The enclosed space and the inability to be outside of it for a sustained period is making them worse,” says Malhar.
The lockdown, put in place to flatten the curve of the COVID19 pandemic by social distancing and enforced isolation, is taking a psychological toll on several people, as they struggle to adjust to this major lifestyle change. Acknowledging it, several mental health professionals across the country are offering their services through phone and video calls. Many of them offer their services free and round the clock.
Sanika Ekbote, counselling psychologist and co-founder of Mumbai-based mental health initiative The Pink Project, sums it up: “For most young adults and teenagers, this is probably the most difficult phase of their life, as they haven’t seen or experienced such major change in their lifestyle before. Unlike our grandparents, we have not lived through wars or disease outbreaks of this scale, so this is our first experience of dealing with a pandemic. The uncertainty is leading to anxiety.”
Sanika and her partner, sports and exercise psychologist Sanika Divekar, put up a post on March 20 on their Instagram handle @thepinkkproject, initiating a dialogue about mental health issues due to the lockdown. They offered their services for free during the 21 days. “We get over 10 new people every day, mainly talking about how confinement is bothering them. A lot of students have been reaching out as they are bothered about the impact this will have on their careers. There are also those who are overthinking about their past actions and decisions,” says Ekbote.
In such times, they assure people that it is okay to feel worried and anxious. “They are comforted by the fact that their worries are valid and these are tough times,” she adds.
Initially, the duo had decided to keep their services open for 24 hours. But after the first few days, they realised that confinement and the continuous sessions were taking a toll on their own mental health. “I started having a lot of negative thoughts myself. I would worry about the effects of the lockdown on the economy and analyse the impact it will have on all those people who called us for help... It never stopped, so my partner and I decided to work between 10 am and 9 pm.”
Devanshi Goradia also opened up online counselling sessions. Since the Mumbai-based clinical psychologist put out a post about mental health issues that the isolation can cause, she has been receiving at least 25 messages per day. “There is grief, panic, loneliness, fear and a sense of hopelessness. In the initial days of the lockdown, even I felt helpless, but a lot of friends and family members reached out to me for help to deal with isolation,” she adds.
People across Kochi, Kolkata, Delhi, Ludhiana and Mumbai have been reaching out to her for help. “The only positive thing about this lockdown is that people who have had mental health issues before but never paid heed to it due to ‘a lack of time’, are now reaching out and seeking help.”
The lockdown is hard not only on young adults but also on the senior citizens. Tanvi Mallya, neuropsychologist and founder of Tanvi Mallya’s ElderCare Services in Mumbai, has been spending days trying to work out a strategy to help them. “Most of them have a fixed routine, with morning walks or a stroll with their friends in the park that they look forward to. Keeping them at home becomes difficult for the family. Most of the family is also anxious, as elderly people are a risk group when it comes to COVID-19,” she says. So her team regularly hosts question-and-answer sessions, or goes live about the ways in which elderly people can be taken care of.
(You can reach out to The Pink Project at 9920974003, Devanshi Goradia at 9967538754 and Tanvi Mallya at 9920249321.)