As Corona cases grew massively in April, governments have struggled to tackle the record-breaking cases daily. Young Indians have joined hands to save lives using social media to direct resources to people in need.
The ongoing second surge of the COVID-19 pandemic in India broke all records in the world. The self-obsessed government has been chest-thumping itself and claiming victory on corona since 2020. But this year when the country is devastated, the Modi government is nowhere in sight.
Many young Indians are running 24/7 volunteer operations. Thousands of SOS calls were made and soon Twitter became COVID Help Centre for India. Everyone is working to find hospital beds, oxygen, verify the availability of medical supplies, update information in real-time and building online databases packed with information about medical resources available across the country.
With two-thirds of its 1.3 billion people under the age of 35, India is an overwhelmingly young country, but its youth have never been called on to shoulder such huge responsibilities. When the situation demanded, youngsters are fighting the virus from the front.
I am also one such volunteer trying to scour information for patients in need. One month ago I never thought I would be doing this. The calls and messages are overwhelming. From the day I have started doing this, I have received so many calls that my phone battery has never been more than 5% in the daytime. It’s a good feeling that I can save and this is the motivating factor for everyone who is helping patients.
But in the past few days, we corona volunteers have experienced a profound impact on our mental health, but no one is talking about it. I fear that after this virus there will be an increase in complaints of mental illness. While checking the notification after getting up in the morning, I am always in fear that there might be a message of someone’s demise.
While helping every patient, a connection is established with them, and when they die I feel as if someone my own has gone. Each request brings a different painful story that blows our minds. Still, we have to focus on help, not on emotions, but the story sticks with us. We do not get success in completing every request and every failed request forces us to doubt ourselves.
I have also received some media coverage for this help in the Corona period, but whenever I fail to help someone, I find all this coverage fake. I think the praises made about me are unreal. It should be deleted. I lose faith in myself.
With all these mixed emotions, I take dozens of SOS calls every day. At the same time, I have to keep these emotions hidden from the family members. If someone in the house sees me under so much stress, they will not let me work.
I have cried a lot after hearing news of the death of many patients. It seems that I am the reason for their death. I would have saved them. I don’t know what people will think or judge after reading this.
I am not alone, there are many volunteers who are going through this mental crisis, but are not speaking publicly. There is a fear that society may consider them mad.
I have been engaged in this work since about 19 April but for the last 1 week, the situation has been getting harder for me. Many nights I have spent thinking about these things. I tried to talk to some people but everyone is grieving. Everyone’s family is struggling with this virus.
It is very easy to say what has happened if you have not been able to help, at least tried. Only those who are in this situation can understand the pain we go through every day. Every moment is dreadful. Every moment is uncertain.
Mental health issues due to the pandemic are one thing, but not being able to talk about it openly is a different thing. There are more conversations about mental health and more empathy, but a lot of us still don’t know how to reach out to and truly be there for people who have certain mental health concerns.
Those with mental health concerns still face stigma and find themselves isolated, being unable to speak about their feelings to even their closest friends or family. This sense of isolation has only increased with the social distancing enforced by the coronavirus pandemic.
Even today, people with mental health concerns are perceived as being “weak” or “dramatic” by some. Often, when someone says they are feeling anxious, the general advice is “don’t worry” or “everything will be fine”. But how? Having their feelings dismissed constantly or not having a safe space to share their thoughts and feelings can compel people to stop talking about their concerns. That is fatal.
The trauma of confronting illness and death daily is unbearable. Once, I got details of patients who were admitted due to COVID infection with their contact information. We made a team to contact the patient’s family and motivate them to donate plasma so that we can meet the demands of plasma requirements.
Unfortunately, out of the 300 patients, very few were alive. The family members broke down while telling us that the patient was no more. It was a nightmare for us. We are too small to handle these losses of life. Soon after these calls, everyone rushed to the WhatsApp group to share. We stopped working for a few hours.
It’s not like you can finish your volunteer work, and just forget about it; you take it home with you at night. The anxiety of feeling helpless against the whole scale of the pandemic is an overarching issue among us. When all this is over, I might need some counselling.
Note: For any COVID related help, I can be reached on Twitter via @SiddhantSarang