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Breaking the Stigma – It is okay to be not okay

‘Stigma’, a very common word used in the field of Mental Health world, is not new to us. Whenever one feels sick, s/he immediately visits a physician, but how often when we feel stressed or anxious do we visit a Psychiatrist? We don’t, right? We have been hearing this for quite a long, but the past couple of month’s experience and statistics at ‘Sakal Sobat Boluya’, a Mental Health Support Helpline gives us a positive picture..positive towards the baby-steps this team is taking towards breaking this stigma.

Supported by Punit Balan Group, a joint initiative of Sakal Social Foundation and Centre for Mental Health, Karve Institute of Social Service, this helpline is functioning 24 x 7 since 3rd of August. The statistics replicate a hopeful picture that people from diverse social backgrounds are now coming out of their shells and discussing their concerns with the professionals working in this helpline round the clock.

Though the stories reflect discomfort and distress expressed by a huge lot, crossing 3100 calls in just two months, certain figures help us understand various stresses quite closely. While the number of calls received from male population (66%) and urban population (65%)  is higher, there is also a considerable call flow from people working in the private sector. While the younger generation, aged 18-30, is still to reach us, senior citizens and home makers are finding the helpline quite helpful to vent out their situations of suppression.  

Major issues faced by people in the last two months mainly show stresses related to current pandemic- COVID 19, coupled with financial stresses. However, apart from these stresses, low mood and depression, anxieties related to future uncertainties, complex and multiple relationships and occupational stresses also top the major concerns. So far as the area of reach is concerned, the helpline is receiving calls from all major cities of Maharashtra like Mumbai, Pune, Aurangabad, Sangli, Kolhapur, from towns like Bramati, Barshi, Karad, Latur, Osmanabad and from the interiors such as Junnar, Shirur, Shirval, Uralikanchan, Gadhinglaj and so on.

Dr. Yogesh Pokale, a Psychiatrist from the team states, “It is good to see people coming and talking about the mental health issues more openly. I have observed the change in my OPD as well. People have started realising the importance of pharmacology in dealing with certain illnesses and do not hesitate taking the required dose of medication. This is a good positive shift.”

Viren Rajput, a Counselor from the team says, “people do not come for solutions all the time; they probably just need a non-judgemental, listening ear which we offer here. Just a patient listening, a feeling that you are being heard makes a lot of difference in many cases.”

Mrs. Medha Kumthekar, a Psychologist from the team shares a caller’s concern that he feels like going back to his native place quite often these days. The other members in the family are not so keen about it. She says, after a discussion of about 15-20 minutes, the aged person felt satisfied to recognize and acknowledge his own feelings with due respect to the importance of involvement of other family members in any big decision taken at this age.

Through activities such as conducting several Webinars related to mental health, reaching out through social media, reaching out to the interiors of Maharashtra, covering all districts and villages are the key contributions of  Sakal Social Foundation in this project. Taking up the operational and academic responsibility as the Knowledge Partner, Karve Institute of Social Service, takes care of the successful implementation of this project through round the clock coordination of various mental health professionals on-board, organizing workshops and training modules for the counselors, acquiring technological support and maintaining statistics. Various observations and research findings that fetched from this project are going to be a significant referral resource for the researchers in near future.

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Shilpa Tambe

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