Amental health helpline at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) has recently introduced a chat service on a pilot basis to offer greater anonymity to those seeking counselling.
The iCALL helpline – a field action project of the School of Human Ecology to provide counselling, psycho-social support, information and referral services – introduced the chat service in October, and it has already clocked 45 chats between October 23 and December 15.
“People find it more convenient to chat as it offers them greater anonymity. While typing, people tend to open up more as they can do it from anywhere, unlike calling. If you are talking about depression or other personal problems, you would need to go to a private area to call so that others don’t overhear,” said Tanuja Babre, programme coordinator, iCALL.
Currently, users can access iCALL’s chat service through its Android-based mobile app nULTA. Each chat sessions last 45 minutes and users must pay an application user service fee of Rs 99 per session, while the counselling is free.
Babre said training counsellors to provide the chat service was a challenge, as there were no ready training modules available. “We conducted a lot of mock sessions for counsellors on how to read the transcripts and understand what a client was going through. There were no existing training programmes. While listening to a call, the tone of the voice perhaps could aid the counsellor; however, in chats, people express themselves more freely. Moreover, a counsellor paraphrases the content of the chat for more clarity.”
Since the launch, the chats have covered a range of issues, from sexual and relationship concerns and study-related problems, to more serious issues such as suicidal feelings and self-harm.
“A majority of our chat clientele is in the 11to 30 age group, though a lot of older people also find it comfortable, as they are used to WhatsApp; they trust a chat more. There are other similar services which do not deal with suicides and sexual concerns, but we do. Many students chat with us, reaching out for issues such as suicide or self-harm. Relationships and health concerns leading to emotional distress are among the biggest issues,” Babre said.
The school plans to expand the project into a full-fledged service after the pilot period ends in December, offering lengthier sessions and better technological platforms for the application. “The pilot was for us to gauge interest among people. Now we know a lot of people are interested in this service.”
The iCALL service does not prescribe medication. “It would be unethical for us to do so. We have a wide network of mental health professionals and civil society organisations, and we refer clients to these on-ground services if required,” Babre said.