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News : Helpline for Mental Health


Calcutta, India, Sept 14, 2020 -- The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a steep rise in the number of people seeking help for mental health issues, speakers at the launch of the golden jubilee celebrations of Antara, a hospital for mental illnesses, said on Sunday.

The hospital in Narendrapur, which started the celebrations through an online programme, launched a helpline to address the needs of the rising number of people with mental illness. An official said the number - 18001205589 - would remain open from 9am to 6pm, from Monday to Saturday.

People of all age groups are suffering because of the pandemic. Adolescents who had no mental health issues before are showing signs of illness, a consequence of anxiety because of uncertainty over their studies amid the pandemic.

Children are suffering because they are unable to meet their friends and do not like being indoors for months, said Indrani Chakraborty, the chief clinical psychologist of Antara.

"A six-year-old girl I spoke with asked me why she could not meet her friends. She has become agitated for not being able to go out or meet friends. A five-year-old girl tried to kill herself by skipping ropes. She did not like the fact that she was staying at home with her elder sister while her parents were going out for work," said Chakraborty.

Another common problem, she said, is excessive fear among some people about contracting Covid-19, to the extent that they are not stepping out even to buy groceries.

Antara started its journey from a building in Picnic Garden in 1971. Mathew P. John, the honorary general secretary of Antara, said the organisation was set up to treat mental health problems faced by people fleeing the erstwhile East Pakistan during the 1971 war.

Mother Teresa had been the inspiration behind the setting up of the organisation.

"Antara was set up to address mental health problems among refugees from East Pakistan and people wandering the streets of Calcutta. Gradually its scope expanded and now it is a 200-bed hospital with OPD and emergency treatment facilities," Mathew told Metro.

The hospital also runs a de-addiction facility and an indoor unit.

Soumyo Chatterjee, the chief psychiatrist, said at the programme that many of the patients brought to the hospital by police even now were found loitering around. "They are kept here and treated. Some were able to tell us their home addresses after a couple of years. Our personnel went with them to reunite them with their families in Assam and Bangladesh," he said.

The management of Antara said they were open to any form of donation and sponsorship because they wanted to expand.

There are plans to run the helpline 24X7 after recruiting more counsellors.


Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent

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