– By Tara Dave
When the first murmurs about the Corona virus appeared, it seemed so far away I almost missed it. Later when we started hearing more about it, the virus which came to be known as Covid 19, still didn’t seem like something that would affect me very much.
But before I knew it the virus arrived on Indian shores. The cases increased and the virus spread, not long after, the lockdown was announced. As the days went by each soon melting into the other, a sense of disconnect coupled with a feeling of isolation started to set in.
The initial euphoria of cancelled exams was soon replaced with a feeling of loneliness and uncertainty. The lack of routine was disorienting. The feeling of being shuttered started to feel claustrophobic. Until this happened and I was suddenly cut off from the world, I hadn’t realized how we feed off the energy of the people we come into contact with.
How much our lives are enriched with basic human interaction. If I felt this way chances are that most people my age were also struggling.
As teenagers who lead a relatively simpler life and are fairly protected by our elders, the pandemic was a shock and has had an arguably larger emotional impact on us than on adults. We were suddenly dealing with a myriad of problems – social issues, academic pressure, family issues, COVID-19 stress and simply just loneliness.
As a teenager in lockdown, I understand what it is like to feel lonesome, isolated and lost. The idea to create a youth dedicated warmline developed when I realized that many teenagers don’t have someone they can share their stresses with.
I wanted to do something and this feeling sarted taking over. I discussed with my parents, my friends and my mentor. As a student of Psychology I was drawn to the intric of the mind and over discussions the idea of a Warmline was born. The concept, though popular in the UK and the USA, is not popular in India. We decided to name it as the QuaranTEEN Warmline, due to its birth out of necessity dictated by the lockdown.
A Warmline is an outlet, where people are able to share what they are going through, how they are feeling, their experiences and their problems, free from any judgement or criticism. It is a safe space where they can feel comfortable and secure. The QuaranTEEN Warmline was for teens who needed to talk.
I did not go in for a Helpline, as that is a platform for emergency action. In comparison, a Warmline as the name suggests is a listening platform with a liberal dose of warmth to make the caller feel a little secure than when they dialled the Warmline number.
I understood how important a warmline is especially in these unprecedented times when so many people are left feeling deserted. Sometimes, you just need to vent to a stranger. Say things in confidence. Teenagers, especially are constantly struggling with peer pressure and feelings of being judged. To have an anonymous voice on the other end can be comforting.
QuaranTeen uses peer to peer support to help callers, it allows teenagers to share what they are going through with someone who truly understands and who has gone through similar situations, someone who reminds them that they are not alone and what they are going through is normal.
Peer to peer support has been an effective method for helping teenagers and offers an empathetic ear to those in need. Being in a lockdown can have many negative effects on a person’s mental state. In a country where mental health is stigmatized, ignored and neglected, a safe space is essential. The fact that sometimes you can feel all alone whilst surrounded by people is often ignored.
The warmline gives everyone a chance to feel comfortable and safe while discussing what’s on their mind. The QuaranTeen team consists of 6 teenagers. We encourage and support each other, share our experiences and remind each other that our role is to be an empathetic and active listener. We all share the passion of wanting to do our part for our community and helping those we can.
The team was trained by clinical psychiatrist Dr Priya Narayanan to provide empathetic support. Identifying issues that are beyond the scope of the warmline was also part of the training. In addition, we have ongoing weekly supervision to discuss issues that come up during calls, and also to check in and make sure we are coping well with the process and not getting burnt out.
The initial response was overwhelming, people from all over the country were reaching out and sharing, I remember how excited the team was when we received our first message and call. Throughout this process, helping others has been very rewarding, people thanking you for your help after a conversation is the most fulfilling thing.
Although along with that comes the weight of the conversations, because by listening you are sharing that emotional burden. I have found that the best way to recover from a heavy talk is sharing with my team.
The warmline can be accessed by teenagers from all across the world. It is currently the only warmline in India and the only COVID-19 dedicated warmline for teenagers in the world. It is important for teenagers to feel confident, accepted and reassured.
The warmline has brought me more joy and enrichment that I ever anticipated and I do hope that it will continue to benefit, ease and encourage teenagers towards seeking support whenever the need is felt. Sometimes a conversation is all it takes.
( Tara Dave is a Mumbai-based class 12 student of the Jamnabai Narsee School & Junior College. )