Profile of distress callers and service utilisation of tele-counselling among the population of Assam, India: an exploratory study during COVID-19

Open J Psychiatry Allied Sci. 2021 Jan-Jun;12(1):7-12. doi: 10.5958/2394-2061.2021.00001.x.


Background: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has affected people globally by causing psychological, social, and economic chaos. The Assam Police, India started telephone helplines to address the psychological issues.

Aims: To evaluate the sociodemographic profile of the distress callers, their psychosocial concerns, the interventions provided by the service provider, and whether the service users were satisfied with the intervention(s) or not.

Method: It was a cross-sectional study done during the period of lockdown (7-24 April 2020). All the callers who called the helpline were screened for anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts (when required), and the psychosocial issues which they were facing were explored. They were provided the psychological intervention(s) at the appropriate time, and they were asked to rate their experience at the end.

Results: A total of 239 callers used the tele-counselling services. The majority of callers were male (79.1%). Most of the callers were between 19-35 years of age group (66.5%), married (52.5%), and graduates (31%). Two-thirds of the callers called to seek guidance for their own issues and one-third for their relatives or friends. Callers had anxiety (46%), depressive disorder (8.3%), and depressive symptoms not qualifying for depressive disorder (14%), and suicidal thoughts (5.44%). The commonest intervention provided to the callers was supportive (77.8%), followed by psychoeducation (30.5%), cognitive behaviour therapy (24.7%), relaxation (23.6%) and behaviour therapy (13.4%). Most of the callers utilised more than one type of therapy. Overall, most of the callers were satisfied and appreciated the tele-counselling services.

Conclusion: The findings could help in formulating psychological interventions to improve the mental health of vulnerable groups in the post-COVID-19 period to reduce psychiatric morbidity and mortality.

Keywords: Anxiety; Depression; Suicide.