COVID Response: A Therapists' Collective
As the global pandemic challenges notions of normalcy and immortality, people across the globe are undergoing a physical as well as an emotional crisis. The situation is even more alarming for individuals who are predisposed to mental health concerns like anxiety or depression. According to the World Health Organization, 7.5 percent of the people in India suffer from a mental health disorder and as professionals have reported, the current fear of contracting the virus, the ongoing state of lockdown, quarantine and isolation are acting as active emotional triggers for heightened anxiety, depression and trauma like symptoms in these individuals. As scientists, medical professionals and government officials scramble to produce and secure vaccinations, the detrimental mental and emotional health of the vulnerable and high risk population is an escalating crisis that the WHO has labeled as the shadow pandemic.
Ramni remembers having panic attacks before her exams. Even as a little girl, she recalls overwhelming bouts of anxiety and stress due to the pressures of life and school. This inspired her to pursue a career in science to better understand how stress and anxiety can impact people and learn about ways to address it. The more Ramni learned about stress, anxiety and panic attacks, the more she realized her experiences as a young person were not unique. She realized that many young people, especially those in her community shared the same struggles.
Now as a professional counseling psychologist, Ramni realized the high demand for mental health support during a global pandemic that has exacerbated mental health conditions in vulnerable and high risk populations that have no access to or means of support. She decided to start a crisis counseling hotline to provide phone counseling to vulnerable groups pro bono. The helpline became active on April 7, 2020 in the state of Delhi and attended over 45,000 calls. But Ramini believed this was just a beginning, there were a lot more people in need of help and the initiative needed to expand to a pan India initiative. While she partnered with several organizations and local governments, including the government of Delhi and Karnataka, the COVID Response team needed to recruit and onboard more counselors and to get the word out about the project to as many people across the country as possible.
Peace First provided the COVID Response Therapists’ Collective with a mini grant that went towards setting up their identity and brand online, marketing the initiative and a Zoom subscription to facilitate the calls. Since then, the initiative was able to provide counseling to over 12000 COVID positive patients and make over 15,600 post COVID recovery counselling calls to those in need of support. While the crisis hotline wrapped up in November, 2020, Ramini and her team are working to build capacity and sustainability within government structures and hope to use the research and case studies from the project to inform policy recommendations.