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Covid-19 Volunteers Helping People Now Face Their Own Crisis, A Mental Health One

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

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.

covid volunteer

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.

covid volunteer
Representative Image.

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

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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