Free COVID tele-counselling helpline operated by psychologists launched in Bengaluru

While most helplines are operated by volunteers who undergo a brief training, what sets Swasti apart is that all 50 of its volunteers are practising or teaching psychologists.
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Woman on phone
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Among the many fallouts of the COVID-19 pandemic is the impact it is having and will continue to have on mental health. Increased anxiety and exacerbation of existing mental health issues are some things that are already apparent, and experts say that the effects on mental and emotional wellbeing will be felt for a much longer time.

In an attempt to address the same, psychologists in Bengaluru have launched Swasti, a tele-counselling helpline, which will be operated by clinical psychologists and counselling psychologists. This sets apart Swasti, because usually volunteers at helplines such as these are not trained in counselling or psychology but are simply put through basic training.

“Swasti, as the name suggests, signifies wellness and is a service providing succour to distressed peopleIt is a free tele-counselling centre initiated by Association of Health Psychologists (AHP) and Bangalore Psychology Forum (BPF) along with Karnataka Child Rights Observatory, Dr Reddy’s Foundation, Karnataka professional Social Workers’ Association, with active support from UNICEF,” says a brief on the helpline.

Dr Manika Ghosh, who is heading the initiative, is the secretary of AHP and the president of BPF. She says that the team has been working on Swasti for around two months, and though the helpline has been active for the last 20 days or so, the official launch happened on June 12.

“All of the 50 volunteers operating the helpline are either teaching or practising psychologists. Between us, we can provide services in multiple languages as well including English, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Urdu and Malayalam,” Dr Manika tells TNM.

While the helpline is open to all – from students, to migrant workers, to frontline workers, to anyone in distress – the team plans to go one step ahead in trying to help the callers as well. “For instance, if a migrant worker calls us saying that they do not have food or sustenance, we will take down their number. We will check our network of referrals and try to get assistance for the person via an official or an NGO and then contact the caller with the same information,” says Dr Manika.

Similarly, if they receive calls from someone who is in an abusive setup, depending on the setup the helpline operators will assist them. “Sometimes, it is not possible for them to simply get out of the situation. So we will provide counselling and support. However, if they require intervention, we will try to guide them accordingly through our referral network,” Dr Manika explains.

The psychologists volunteering for the helpline have been selected after a psychometric assessment to ensure that they are in a position to provide tele-counselling. They will be routinely put through this assessment to ensure that they are in a fit state to continue their services for Swasti as well. Further, to ensure that the cases they get are appropriately dealt with, the psychologists will also consult with each other routinely to draw from each other’s experience and different areas of expertise.

While the helpline has been launched in the context of COVID-19, Dr Manika says that they plan to continue this even after the current crisis is over – whenever that is. “The mental health impact of something like this will be felt much after it’s over too. Issues like anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and so on will impact people for much longer.”

Swasti operates between 6 am to 11 pm on all days and can be reached at 080-47186060.

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