Two sisters kept themselves locked in a room at night to keep out their father, an alcoholic who had turned more abusive after losing his job during the pandemic.
An eight-year-old girl, whose parents had Covid a few months ago, kept writing stories that never had happy endings.
The pandemic has affected children’s mental health in different ways. A helpline to address these issues is buzzing throughout the day, said rights activists behind the drive that was launched in August.
“Many parents said their children were suffering from anxiety and restlessness. These problems needed professional handling. That is when we decided to set up a tele-counselling facility with our number — 1098,” said Jaydeep Sengupta, senior programme coordinator with Childline India Foundation’s Bengal unit.
Jayaprakash Institute of Social Change, an NGO and research centre, has collaborated with Childline in running the tele-counselling project.
“The central call centre of Childline’s Bengal unit receives hundreds of phone calls throughout the day. Those needing mental support and psychosocial help are routed to the counsellors of the NGO,” said Sengupta.
A team of six counsellors of the institute has been handling “three to four cases” almost every day. The monthly number has been ranging between 120 and 150, said an official of Childline.
The counsellors shared with this newspaper the details of some of the recent cases.
⚫ The caller was a 13-year-old girl from Hooghly. Her father had a drinking problem and frequently beat her mother even before the pandemic, the girl alleged. His behaviour has turned more violent after losing his job because of the pandemic. The girl has a younger sister. Their mother, who works as an ayah, has been doing night shifts since last month. Every night, the elder girl locks herself and her younger sister inside a room to keep out their father.
⚫ A 16-year-old girl lives with her mother, a school teacher, in Salt Lake. Her father stays out of Kolkata for work. Being confined within the four walls has led to anxiety and breathing problems in the daughter. She almost stopped eating. She often fought with her mother and became so agitated that the mother was scared that she would harm herself. Their fights often prompted their neighbours to raise the alarm.
⚫ An eight-year-old girl in south Kolkata saw both her parents get Covid. Her father needed oxygen support at home. The “very intelligent” girl who had seen and read about the deaths caused by the pandemic developed an acute fear of losing her parents. She had problems sticking to a routine. She wrote stories that had violence. The stories never had a happy ending.
The pandemic has affected different people in different ways, said counsellors associated with the project.
“In urban families, the children’s world has been limited to a screen. But most of them are still connected to schools. In semi-urban and rural areas, many children are completely detached from any sort of formal education,” said Sreeja Sethia, a psychologist with the Jayaprakash Institute of Social Change who is leading the team of counsellors.
“We have been getting many calls from rural areas where parents are complaining about children’s addiction problems. Many of them have taken to substance abuse,” she said.