New Delhi: Nearly 70 per cent of calls received on the Centre’s mental health rehabilitation helpline number since September 2020 have been from male callers, data accessed by ThePrint has revealed.

The helpline KIRAN was launched by the Narendra Modi government on 16 September last year. Between September and 31 May, the helpline received a total of 29,975 calls. Of these, 69.9 per cent calls were from males, while the remaining 30.1 per cent were from female callers, according to data maintained by the government. Also, most callers — 76.8 per cent — were in the 15-40 year age bracket, while 16.8 per cent were those aged between 41 and 60 years.

Students constituted the highest percentage of these callers (32.6 per cent), followed by working professionals (25.5 per cent), the unemployed (20.4 per cent), those who are self employed (14.2 per cent) and homemakers (4.4 per cent). About 2.9 per cent of the callers did not reveal personal details about themselves, according to the government document. ThePrint has accessed this government document.

On an average, the helpline received over 3,700 calls every month during this period. Of these, a little more than 50 per cent were related to issues of depression and anxiety.

“People were scared about their family members (their health) and their future,” said a senior official operating the helpline at the National Institute for the Empowerment of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities (NIEPID), Noida.

“In addition, owing to the pandemic, social functioning has been compromised, so definitely depression and anxiety have been the subject of most calls received during this time,” he added.

Developed by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment’s Department for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD), the Kiran helpline aims to provide the first line of counselling to those in need, given the increasing mental health problems being faced by people during the Covid pandemic.

The helpline service (1800-599-0019) is available in 13 Indian languages. There are 25 helpline centres, which act as the first line of support. Of these, eight are at national institutes, 14 are composite regional mental health centres and three are regional centres. The helpline engages the service of 660 clinical and rehabilitation psychologists and 668 psychiatrists.

‘Anxiety, depression accounted for 54.2% of calls’

The document shared with ThePrint reveals that 54.2 per cent of the total calls received were from those suffering from depression and anxiety. While 30.1 per cent of callers needed help for anxiety issues, 24.1 per cent were from those suffering from depression.

Of the remaining calls received, 35.2 per cent were for miscellaneous reasons, 5.6 per cent related to other pandemic issues (such as job loss), 2.7 per cent were from those with suicidal tendencies and 2.3 per cent related to substance abuse.

“Anxiety and depression peaked not just due to the immediate reasons of the pandemic (such as health worries), but also associated reasons like job losses or uncertainty,” explained Dr Surendra Dhalwal of the National Institute for Empowerment of Persons with Visual Disabilities (NIEPVD), Dehradun, one of the centres from where the helpline is operated. “There are many things that can be resolved through counselling. Therapy is expensive, but this helpline makes mental health care more accessible,” he added.

Calls received on the helpline are responded to at three stages, according to the government document.

At the first stage, “mild concerns” are handled by professional counsellors, answering the calls. Depending on the severity of the problem, at the second stage, the calls are forwarded to psychologists working at these centres. If the psychologist feels it is required, the callers are then connected to external experts.

The helpline attendants provide both therapeutic and psychological interventions, explained the document.

Officials associated with the helpline also said that while the helpline has spurred many, including women and students, to seek help during the pandemic, ignorance of mental health issues and denial continue to be a challenge.

“The real challenge is family members, especially when they are in denial. If the wife is having problems, for example, and the husband does not recognise it and is in denial, it becomes very difficult to enlist the support of the family members to help the sufferer. We have to devise ways to get her to convince the family members then, so that they may help her. So, unawareness about mental health problems continues to be a huge challenge,” said the senior official at NIEPID, Noida.

There is also often a sense of shame in admitting to mental health problems, which makes it difficult to address the problem. “We seek help for physical ailments easily, but there is still a taboo around mental health problems,” said Dr Surendra Dhalwal of NIEPVD Dehradun.