How many phone calls, on an average, do you get?
About 350-500 calls per month.
What is the most common issue for which you get calls?
People call us mostly in extreme emotional distress. This is different from a mental illness. Anyone who may not meet the diagnostic requisite of a mental illness can still undergo a significant amount of emotional distress, like say somebody goes through a break up or has lost a relative. Those are the kind of calls we get the most.
Over a phone call, you should not ever diagnose (the illness) of a person...But relationship (issues) are the cause for most number of calls, whether it be family or intimate partners.
iCALL aims to "provide psychological assistance and information which is accurate, unbiased, nondiscriminating and accessible, to all individuals, from all parts of the country." Which part of the country do you get the most number of calls from?
80% of our callers are from Bombay. We cannot determine the location unless somebody tells us where they are from. We do not have a GPS tracking system installed. Here if we trace somebody it becomes a violation of their privacy.
We get a lot of calls from suburban areas as well as slums. This shows the kind of outreach that we do.
If someone asks for help through an e-mail how is help provided? Through e-mail or by phone?
We leave it open to the person. Generally, those who send e-mails are aware that a telephonic service is available but are not comfortable talking to someone. These are also people who are very guarded. So we leave it open to them. In any month, we have about 10-15 people who are writing back and forth to us.
Does the relatively impersonal nature of the e-mail or the phone call (as compared to a one-on-one counselling session) prove a handicap?
We have to look at it from the perspective of somebody who is approaching us. So what a tele-counselling facility provides is convenience and confidentiality. There is stigma even if you just ask people about a counsellor [that you may want to visit].
Moreover, therapy is not cheap. Even a mid-range psychologist will charge you at least 500-700 rupees per session. You will require at least 10-15 sessions and it is not something everyone can afford.
It becomes a challenge professionally because all our non-verbal cues are taken away. All we are relying on is the person's voice.
The helpline also aims to provide special assistance to those from disadvantaged backgrounds. How has the response from this section been? Do those who face class/caste-based exploitation call?
We get calls from people who are discriminated against because of their mental illness, who are discriminated against because of the gender identity they assume or sexual orientation they have. We get a lot of calls from the LGBT community.
The only way caste/class as an issue has come across is in terms of relationships, where one partner is from a lower caste/class and the in-laws discriminate against her/him. In that way it has come up a lot.
What do psychosocial issues include and how are they any different from psychological issues?
Psychosocial translates in Hindi and Marathi as manosamajit. Society affects your psyche. Psychological problems deal only with the individual. We deal with the individual in the context of the society he or she lives in.
Somebody being discriminated against on the basis of the caste they belong to or their sexual orientation--that's not the problem of the individual. That becomes a psychosocial issue.
The iCALL brochure includes things such as relationship issues, sexuality and gender, senior citizen issues, career guidance. There are other helplines that are specific in their approach. Was it a deliberate attempt to have a wider scope. If yes, why?
Before setting up this helpline, we had a national level consultation of helplines, this included those with a very specific focus such as LGBT helplines or HIV Aids helplines. What all of them told us was that a very small portion of calls was for that specific purpose.
Even if you set out to have a helpline with a very specific purpose, all kinds of people call you. From a logistical point of view, it may be convenient to have a suicide helpline or a senior citizen helpline, but for people, all of these issues are co-related.
The brochure also says that even those feeling anger, sadness and guilt can avail of assistance at iCALL. Some would say this is over-medicalisation of every day emotions and experiences.
Every individual's reality is different. I got a call the other day from someone who was afraid to go to college. We are not here to judge what is normal and what is abnormal. We are not here to establish a regime of normalcy. You are the expert of your own life.
There is nothing medical about what we do; we are not giving anyone medicines. Counselling is just talk therapy.
(The helpline works from Monday to Saturday, between 10 am and 10 pm. The number to call is 022-25563291. Their e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org)