More than six months into the pandemic, the COVID-19-induced social isolation has triggered a spate of mental health issues in the elderly.
Helplines opened by the Social Justice Department receive hundreds of calls a day from senior citizen who are grappling with mood disorders and depression as their whole worlds have been turned upside down.
From loneliness and lack of social interaction to missing grandchildren and weekly church service, the older adults find it very difficult to cope with the new post-pandemic routine.
Lack digital literacy
Moreover, many of them lack digital literacy and are dependent on others for a broader array of services.
“We receive around 200 incoming calls from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and we reach out to more than 1,500 persons a day. There are elderly people who get in touch with us when they get anxiety attacks and several persons break down during the calls. Based on their issue, we forward the calls to counsellors. Though the call centre service was started for two months, it may be extended depending on the situation,” says Alan Antony, an official coordinating the calls.
Team of volunteers
In each district, a team of volunteers and counsellors keep a tab on all elderly based on the data provided by the department. They mainly focus on persons who live alone or whose children fail to provide for them.
“A majority of them had been going out on a regular basis before the pandemic and missing social life has been very hard on some. They feel very suffocated and most of them complain about insomnia, palpitations and excessive nervousness,” says Smitha S, psychologist.
There are also some persons who are worried about falling sick or contracting the virus.
“A neighbour testing positive or the death of a peer will generate fear and psychological trauma in them.”
Call centre number
The department has circulated the call centre number through media and instructed ASHA workers and anganwadi teachers to connect all elderly persons with the facility.
According to volunteers, there are calls that continue for hours as the elderly persons find it very comforting to talk to someone. But there is also some who have no access to phones, the only link to the world outside.
“If the parents don’t have phones, we call up the children and arrange a convenient time. Based on a set of questions, our volunteers decide what kind of service they need and if they need regular follow-ups. There are also persons who face domestic abuse from their children and caregivers. We have been able to sort a couple of such issues with the help of police,” says Alan, who adds that they would be able to attend more calls if not for some recurring server issues.