Tara Dave spends every evening on phone calls. Not surprising for a 17-year-old, but what is unusual is that every day, she speaks to children across the country, as part of QuaranTeen Warmline, a peer-to-peer support helpline, exclusively for teenagers aged 15 to 18, that she helms.
“Many hotlines have come up for people to call when in a crisis, ever since the COVID-19 pandemic started,” says the Mumbai resident. But what about those who just needed a safe outlet to vent out their worries, she wondered. “When I was talking to my friends, a lot of them told me about their academic uncertainties, issues at home. See, as a child you are protected, and as an adult you have some stability. Us teenagers are in that shaky middle ground, and being in lockdown adds to that stress and anxiety.”
On May 1, she started an Instagram account, QuaranTeen Warmline, inviting teenagers to reach out and drop in a direct message if they wished to talk.
She, along with five other friends, set up a helpline such that they would take calls between 4 pm and 10 pm, each for an hour. “We worked out a system so that calls are directed to one of us, each hour. If it is my hour, and I’m already speaking to someone else, the call is redirected to the next listener in line,” she explains. Some make an appointment via text, while others just pick up the phone and call.
The helpline is not one for crises, she reiterates, but just to provide a judgement-free zone, where they can offer empathy, understanding and support. So far, she says, over 400 teenagers have reached out to them, and actor Abhay Deol shared their work on his Instagram account, as well.
“Not everyone feels comfortable speaking about certain issues with people they know, or maybe their families are not very open,” she says, explaining why someone would prefer the anonymity of an online safe space. Calls so far have ranged from being about ‘relationship troubles’ and ‘family not respecting my privacy’ to ‘not feeling like myself’ and ‘not being on top of my game’.
In case any call seems more serious than what they can handle, they refer them to the crisis helpline of the caller’s city. Guiding them in this is Los Angeles-based psychiatrist Dr Priya Narayanan, a family friend of Tara’s.
“We had a training session with her on the dos and don’ts of handling sensitive situations, on how to gauge whether a person is uncomfortable on call, or how do we manage and move ahead if we feel uncomfortable... So a list of guidelines like these,” she says. The girls have a feedback call with her once every two weeks.
They now know to not ask open-ended questions. “ We will not ask, ‘Do you think this is the problem?’. Instead, we ask, ‘Why do you think this is the way it is?’. This helps them arrive at their own realisations,” she says.
Tara herself has been writing exams online and is unsure of what this year will look like, and which university she will be able to attend. “Many of my friends are taking a one-year break. It is a pandemic but what you are most stressed about is your grades. Quite an odd situation to be in!”
Follow @Quaranteenwarmline or call 9132913298.