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With lakhs under home quarantine, Kerala employs counsellors to help quell anxiety

The counsellors work 24x7 in shifts answering to a number of calls from people with stress and anxieties and say a few of them may not need counselling but others need them desperately.

Updated: Apr 03, 2020, 11:18 IST

By Ramesh Babu, Thiruvananthapuram Hindustan Times

Patients and those under observation are allowed to use their mobile phones and most of them browse to know what is happening around on Covid-19 front and get nervous after reading about the situation. (Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)

Kerala, one of the coronavirus pandemic hotspots in the country, has employed 950 counsellors to talk to more than 150,000 people under quarantine and 700-odd patients in hospitals to provide the much-needed support to cope with mental health issues.

The counsellors work 24x7 in shifts answering to a number of calls from people with stress and anxieties and say a few of them may not need counselling but others need them desperately.

The calls sometimes have patients shouting or crying and counsellors say fear is the key in most cases blended with stigma, outrage, anxiety and deprivation.

They say the most frequently asked question is about safety and survival—whether they will be able to weather out the coronavirus pandemic—in the state which has reported 286 Covid-19 cases and two deaths till Tuesday.



Patients and those under observation are allowed to use their mobile phones and most of them browse to know what is happening around on Covid-19 front and get nervous after reading about the situation.

Also read: Over 500 new Covid-19 cases in a day in India; total number crosses 2,500

So, counsellors often advise them not to read up about the respiratory illness and its after-effects and concentrate more on entertainment, sports and other sections.

One of the counsellors in Kottayam answered a call by a man, who is more than 70-years-old, about a legal issue.

“I have a property with crores of rupees. But I didn’t prepare a will. If I die there will chaos in my family. Will you help me prepare a will?” he asked.

The counsellor said they tried their best to convince that he will come out in the best of his health. “But, initially he was not ready to buy my advice but later came around,” the counsellor said.

They are not supposed to divulge the details of individual patient names or their locations.

Also read: High court stops Kerala from liquor sales amid lockdown, says recipe for disaster

“Some of them really need psychological counselling and some also show suicidal tendencies. People who repeatedly test positive often break down fearing they will never come out of the mess,” a psychologist, who is a part of the counselling team, said.

“Our only solace is most of them have seen life and they have seen the world. So most of them understand things and come around quickly,” the psychologist said.

Another psychologist said they engage them by slowly talking about general things and gradually come to their mental health.

“At times some of them curse, shout, abuse or break down. But we slowly bring them back to reality and tell them it is just a passing phase they have to undergo. And some of them talk feverishly about their future plans,” the psychologist said.

India’s first Covid-19 patient, a medical student who returned from the Chinese epicentre of Wuhan in China and tested positive three days later on January 30, also experienced similar emotions.

“Once I broke down and showed some tantrums and health authorities soon brought my mother and lodged her in the next room. When I heard my mother’s voice after two weeks I cried a lot. Later, I recovered,” the medical student said.

But she admits the number of Covid-19 patients could be counted on fingers, but not now.

As the number of people under quarantine has gone up, the government is now planning to approach film stars and others to devote some time for them and many including some superstars have agreed to it.

“It is an extraordinary situation. We need the help of all. We have approached many known personalities and they all pledged their help. We have to make patients and quarantined believe there is no stigma or taboo, it is a disease and anyone can get it,” KK Shailaja, the state’s health minister, said.

Actor Mohanlal and Mammooty have appeared on a video stressing the need for social isolation and care.

The government recently roped in former Indian football team captain IM Vijayan to talk to migrant workers.

“Since I was there in West Bengal many years playing for some clubs I know Bengali and Hindi well. I know their anxiety and concern. So, when the government approached me I readily agreed to it,” said Vijayan, now an inspector with the Kerala Police.

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