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Tata Institute of Social Sciences mental health helpline iCall asks folks to 'Pick up the phone'

Initiating Concern for All, or iCall, the not-for-profit psychosocial helpline of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, started a week-long campaign on Saturday that will lead up to World Mental Health Day on 10 October. This includes a Twitter drive to upload selfies holding up a message that reads, “Pick up the phone". Several Twitter users, including stand-up comedian Aditi Mittal, have posted photos.

“The main aim of the campaign is to help people overcome the mental blocks that prevent them from accessing a counsellor," says Paras Sharma, programme coordinator at the helpline.

The global celebration is meant to mark education, awareness and advocacy surrounding mental health and psychosocial problems. This year’s theme is “Living with Schizophrenia". The team of eight counsellors, including Sharma, has spread the net wider. Since 4 October, they have released newsletters “aimed at increasing awareness" with “self-help strategies", to address issues such as myths surrounding mental health, the psychosocial impact of dermatological conditions, body image related issues among teenagers and young adults, and conversing with one’s children about sex, among others.

A psychosocial approach offers a holistic view on mental health problems as it allows stakeholders like family and friends to get involved in the solution. “The problem isn’t just with the person, but with the conditions in which they live," says Sharma.

The newsletters will be uploaded everyday on the helpline’s Facebook page titled iCall Psychosocial Helpline .

“Face-to-face counselling is important. But, most people who need counselling don’t approach a counsellor because of the stigma associated with it. A helpline allows you anonymity and allows you to speak to a counsellor immediately. When someone calls us in a vulnerable state, we build on the fact that they’ve called us, which means that they are keen to talk, which is a non-judgemental point of view. We buy time and make a pact with them to call us if they feel as vulnerable again," says Sharma.

“A common misconception is that people assume that counsellors who have not had the same life experiences would not be able to help. In our newsletters, we point to the training counsellors receive in psychotherapy, how psychotherapies are empirically shown to be effective, how counselling views the client as the expert on his/her life and of course how it is not necessary for the counsellor to match you completely when it comes to life experiences," Sharma adds.

The World Health Organization, which released its first report on suicide prevention last month titled Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative, found that India accounts for the largest number of suicides in the world—a third of the global total of 800,000 annually. It also has the highest rate of suicides among the youth aged 15-29; globally, suicide is the second leading cause of death in this age group.

iCall was started by the Centre for Human Ecology in TISS in September 2012 and has reached out to over 17,000 people from across India. It operates six days a week (10am-10pm, Monday-Saturday) on 022-25563291.

Here are some of the photos that Twitter users have put up.

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Courtesy Aneesh Bhasin

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Courtesy Akriti Sondhi

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Courtesy Gaurav Chauhan

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Courtesy Neelansh Mittra

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Courtesy S Narayanan

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Courtesy Tripta Bhatia

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Photo: Courtesy Shivangi Lath

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