Published: 21st May 2021
This tele-counseling service in Attappady, run by teachers and MSE grads, helps cure loneliness in the tribal villages
Introduced under the Attappady Special Project, trained professionals communicate with residents who have been struggling with their mental health due to isolation
The Attappady Special Project is at it again. Kudumbashree Young Professional Sudheesh Kumar explained their latest initiative through a voice that was growing hoarse courtesy the incessant calls. The organisation has set up a tele-counseling service for those living in each ooru or settlement in the forest region. Among one of the four trained MSW graduates who have been entrusted with the job, another phone call with us fit right into this generous schedule.
The service was set up a week after Kerala declared a state-wide lockdown on May 8. Cases have increased in every village, town and city. And the impact has been amazing. Take this case for example. After a funeral was held a few months ago in a specific village, cases began spreading like wildfire among the households of all those who had attended it. Sudheesh tells me that at one point, it had gone so high that 50 tests taken in any area would result in at least 30 positive cases. With a 60 per cent positivity rate, the volunteers gave strict instructions to each and every resident to stay safely at home.
The counseling programme is open 24 hours, free of charge. And it has made a world of change among Attappady residents. “The response has been great,” Sudheesh tells me, “Considering the loneliness this pandemic has brought, people have shown a lot of gratitude to us. Usually, such services are mere formalities. You call, talk for a few minutes and hang up. This is not the same. At a time when people are isolated from their kin, we have become their family. Now even those who were averse to it have started ringing us. A real connection has been made.”
But with the restrictions, loneliness has been preying on many residents in the hills. Sudheesh says, “After cases began spreading, there was a situation brewing where people who tested positive were almost completely isolated, not just physically but emotionally. If someone contracted COVID, the other families would respond by cutting all ties with them. They are completely separated from the rest of society. This can lead to a lot of mental health issues. So we offer specialised counseling in these cases.”
The first plan of action was to get registered under the Society Act. And in addition to the standing instructions, Kudumbashree staff and teachers from the Special Project have given them strict orders not to leave their homes at any cost and to control the flow of people into their homes. Youth Club members work with each family to offer all essentials from food and medication to drinking water.
He goes on, “There are older people in these families who have been feeling alone. They have no one to look after them. They call us or other Kudumbashree teachers nearby who will help connect them to us. The main issues we deal with are depressions and isolation. We offer tips on how to deal with depression, about medicines and options like yoga. We share videos with them which can work as guides on dealing with such issues and helps them deal with anxiety.”
The professionals also refer books to the isolated. Under the Special Project, 100 libraries with 100 books have been set up across the area under the Balavijnan Library project. For children, and even adults, in the area who have been forced to stay at home, these services have been amped up where children have been encouraged to read in a socially distanced rotation. Books are also sent to homes through the Youth Club volunteers.