A 34-year-old working professional in Paschim Vihar is undergoing regular counselling after her mother approached a psychiatrist worried over suicidal tendencies that her daughter had developed over the last fortnight.

“She was already stressed due to her divorce proceedings. Now her company has deducted 25% of her salary and is firing many people. She has lost all hope, especially after knowing that the Covid-19 is going to stay for a long time,” the mother told the psychiatrist.

“She tried to commit suicide by consuming some drugs, but puked out everything within seconds. Every day she says that she doesn’t want this painful life as the world is going to end,” added her mother.

Simran, 31, another private sector employee based in Delhi, wakes up to rising Covid-19 numbers every morning – that leave her anxious, angry and on the edge. She said one of the reasons she is frustrated is because she feels claustrophobic at home, due to the lockdown. These are not isolated cases.

Uncertainty, desolation and the economic despair triggered by the pandemic has led to a spurt in distress calls to the country’s suicide prevention helplines.

The Mumbai-based Vandrevala Foundation, for instance, a charity organisation that aims to provide aid to those suffering from mental health issues in India, used to receive 90 calls a day before the lockdown. Since the lockdown began, these calls have gone up to 150 a day. Also, the emails received by the agency have gone up from 80 to 120.


“The number of calls to helplines has gone up exponentially. Ideally, this used to be exam season but this year due to the lockdown no results are coming out. Even then, the call volume is up by 30 per cent,” says Arun John of Vandrevala Foundation. “Companies are firing people during the lockdown. People are caught in a Catch-22 situation.

Many of those who’ve taken loans are worried about losing jobs. Marriages are in jeopardy because there are expectations,” he said.

Many other helplines have similar stories to recount. Jeevan Aastha, a Gujarat-based nonprofit dealing with distress callers, gets 60-70 distress calls each day on an average. Forty per cent of these are linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. Johnson Thomas, the Mumbai-based director and co-founder of Aasra, a 24-hour helpline that caters to suicidal and emotionally distressed individuals, said the nature of the distress calls has changed.

Sumaitri, the oldest suicide prevention helpline in Delhi, used to receive around 10 calls a day. Now it has to attend to more than 15 calls a day. Nalini Malhotra, Director, Sumaitri recollected how the condition of a woman who had been facing domestic abuse worsened because her husband is around all the time. Psychiatrists say that in the last one and a half months, more than 20 per cent of the total teleconsultancy they do every day is related to suicidal tendencies.

Loss of job, pay cuts, and financial distress are some of the leading causes in the lockdown that have made a huge section of population vulnerable to the point of contemplating selfharm, they said. As per data collated from counseling agencies, stress and panic attacks increased by as much as 35 to 40 per cent last month (April).


India has been under a relentless lockdown since March 25 with the current phase, with a number of relaxations, going up till May 31.

Dr Jugal Kishore, who heads the Department of Community Medicine at Delhi’s Vardhaman Mahavir Medical College and Safdarjung Hospital, conducted an online survey titled ‘Depression and Corona’. The survey was in the form of a questionnaire set according to the definition of depression by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The team received more than 400 responses from people staying in various parts of the country.

“From the responses we have received so far, over 30 per cent show signs of depression. This is a very high rate. The people reporting symptoms come from all walks of life,” says Dr Kishore.

Advocate Rajesh R Pillai, President, Befrienders India, a helpline working towards suicide prevention, says most calls during the lockdown are about fear of unemployment or inability to pay EMI and rent. “There is a person who works in the Middle East. His family lives in Kerala. The man had taken a housing loan but for the last two months, he hasn’t paid it and hasn’t even been able to return to India. Now, they are worried about the loan and the educational expenses of their children,” he said.


A group of researchers comprising public interest technologist Thejesh GN, activist Kanika Sharma and assistant professor of legal practice at Jindal Global School of Law Aman studied the possible causes of non-Covid deaths for the time period of March 19 to May 2. According to the group, during this period, 80 people killed themselves because of loneliness and the fear of testing positive for coronavirus.

Psychiatrist Sanjay Chugh is of the view that India might witness a wave of anxiety disorders, depression, suicidal ideas and addiction. “People are encountering a lot of physical problems including insomnia and are abusing chemicals a lot more during the lockdown.

People are virtually begging me to prescribe sleeping pills for them, but chemists are not honouring prescriptions sent on WhatsApp. So, people have begun to consume whatever chemical they can lay their hands on to get a good night’s sleep,” added Dr Chugh.

The Delhi Police too are taking the help of faculty at the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IBHAS), for its personnel in distress.

“We are taking help of psychologists whom the police personnel can directly contact for grievances. Being frontliners, the pandemic overpowers the mental state of a person. There is a need of proper mental care and consultation to avoid any untoward incident,” said Delhi Police spokesperson MS Randhawa.

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