Official Covid fatalities not with standing, the pandemic pushed several others into the abyss only to be pulled back because they sought help. Calls to suicide prevention helplines surged as people battled depression and suicidal tendencies triggered by the pandemic.

Data shared by Jeevan Aastha, a suicide prevention helpline that also offers counselling, revealed that over 70% of the calls during 2020 and 2021 were made either by Covid patients or their kin

In 2019, the helpline received about 20,178 calls, of which 253 were made by people who wanted to end their lives. By the time the pandemic began in 2020, the calls shot up to 24,674 of which 330 were those with suicidal tendencies. In 2021, the overall number of such calls decreased to 21,806 but 317 callers showed suicidal tendencies.

The helpline said that 72% of the calls made during 2020 and 85% of those made during 2021 pertained to Covid. With Omicron playing havoc, 2022 is no different. In the last 191 days, the helpline has received 19 calls seeking help for worries concerning the Omicron variant. Some of these callers report suffering from depression after losing a loved one to Covid. Interestingly, the callers belong to all age groups across professions.

In January 2022, the helpline received a call from a couple who lost their 25 year-old son during the second wave. The youth had come to India from Australia and following his death, the parents slipped into depression and guilt as they felt responsible.

They wanted to end their lives. But they made a call to our helpline before acting on their instinct and expressed their feeling of guilt. We counselled them and helped them come out of depression, said a senior counsellor of the helpline.

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Students living alone in hostels, unable to attend their classes or get out of their rooms, also suffered.

A 22-year-old girl living in a hostel in Ahmedabad called up the helpline as she could not go home. With Omicron raging on, she feared infecting her parents though she was not infected.

Another call was by a 22- year-old whose father died of Covid in 2020. The youth slipped into depression and held his mother responsible as he felt she had not taken adequate care of him.

How deeply the pandemic affected people’s psyche, can be known from the fact that a 26-year-old man called the helpline fearing for his life. He had been infected in 2020 and then again in 2022 despite being vaccinated. The man still under counselling is paranoid that he has lost his immunity and that the pandemic will kill him.

The helpline said calls for help came from all sections and strata of society. Businessmen, doctors, saláried people all sought help. Many had slipped into depression due to the economic toll that the pandemic took on household finances. Many others complained of recovery agents knocking on their doors.

A teacher, who called. up the helpline, said she lost her job as the school could not pay her salary because the students were not paying fees. Not just adults, even teenagers developed problems, including addictions during the pandemic.

A 14-year-old boy got addicted to surfing on mobile phones while studying online and ordered products worth Rs 30,000 without his parents’ knowledge. He felt guilty about it. We counselled him to apologise and come out clean. He finally told his parents the truth and felt relieved, said a counsellor at the helpline.

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