Dial M for mental health

mental health

Prasun Sangroula

  • Read Time 3 min.

Kathmandu: The recent few months have seen a surge in the number of organizations providing mental health hotlines. Such hotline advertisements and posts are abundant on social media platforms of late. Since the first lockdown, both the government and the private sector are providing mental health and psychological counseling to callers of such hotlines. 

“People are more conscious about their mental health and have started to understand its importance. Likewise, the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has caused anxiety and depression in many, and they need counseling. A simple conversation with experts can sort out a lot of their problems. On the flip side, there are a few who are taking advantage of this critical time and launching such mental health helplines for commercial benefits,” says psychologist Gopal Dhakal regarding the growing number of such hotlines.

Recently, Health foundation- an organization providing health care services in collaboration with  Lions Club International, Lions Club of Kathmandu, and Ministry of Health and Population started Covid-19 Tele Health Service. Madan Raj Bhatta, Executive Director of Health Foundation, said that the pandemic had forced people to stay inside their houses, and there is no mechanism to look after their physical and mental health. “So to address this issue, we have come up with the idea of the health helpline,” said Bhatta. The helpline has employed more than 50 doctors with various specializations.

Pandemic and panic

Reportedly, the pandemic has witnessed a large number of mental illness and suicide cases. According to the data of Nepal Police, during the lockdown period of four months last year, a total of 2,218 people committed suicide. In the fiscal year 2017-18, the number was 5,317, and in 2018-19, it was 5,785.

Dr Nicholas Bhusal, a psychiatrist at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital (TUTH) suicide prevention hotline opines that the number of callers has grown exponentially during this pandemic. “Earlier, we used to attend to only a couple of callers per day, but now the number has grown to 10-15 a day.

Similarly, Psychologist Dhakal, who has been running a mental health hotline through his organization Mental Health Awareness and Research Center (MARC), also accepts that the numbers of service-seekers in hotline has increased during the pandemic.

As thousands have lost their jobs and are forced to stay indoors, many have developed anxiety and depression, and they seek relief from these hotlines. 

“Before the pandemic and the lockdown, people used to prefer face-to-face counseling but now it is not impossible. This is also one of the primary reasons for the increase in the number of hotline callers,” explained Dhakal.

Likewise, Bhatta of Health Foundation claims to have received up to 200 calls on a single day during this lockdown.

Primary beneficiaries

Youths are the primary consumer of social media platforms, and they are the first to know about these hotlines and are also the first to seek such counseling. As thousands have lost their jobs and are forced to stay indoors, many have developed anxiety and depression, and they seek relief from these hotlines. 

“The young mostly call with problems related to coronavirus, career, studies, and relationships. These issues arising due to the pandemic are apparently affecting the mental health of the youth, and it is a grave concern,” said Dr Bhusal. 

Efficacy of the hotlines

So, have the helplines been effective at all? The operators say that the mushrooming of the hotlines should be seen in a constructive way as their efficacy is also proportional to their growing numbers.  

When questioned about the efficacy of the mental health hotline, Dr. Bhusal and Psychologist Dhakal seemed to be satisfied with its results. Many of the cases have been resolved through the hotline, both of them claimed.

Dr. Bhusal said that around 80 percent of mental health issues can be resolved through a simple phone call. Likewise, Dhakal informed that he has also solved a lot of mental health cases through the hotline service. “The medium is not as important as how you deal with the patients. Comforting conversations and proper counseling can help a lot of people through these hotlines,” said he.