A teenager begins a helpline with a difference in India’s big city Mumbai, and warms virtual conversation. Haima Deshpande, journalist and researcher, interviews Tara Dave of Warmline. January 2021.
Sometimes a conversation is all it takes for an idea to be born. Mumbai-based teen Tara Dave started a conversation with a close-knit group of friends on the impact of physical isolation during the Covid-19 lockdown. They knew the enforced social distancing had impacted them emotionally. Though they talked to each other in the early days of the lockdown in India in March 2020, their inability to hang out together and do the things that teens did was beginning to take a toll on their emotional well-being.
Sixteen-year old Tara, a student of Human Behaviour and Cognitive Psychology, was overwhelmed with the desire to do something for teens like her. She had been hearing stories about increased mental ailments and suicides due to frustration from the lockdown. Her conversation with her mentor Dr Priya Narayanan, a clinical psychiatrist, led to the idea of a warmline for teens, where they could dial in and have a conversation.
The lockdown showed us the undeniably elevated position the mobile phones had in our lives and the manner in which they had taken over our lives. It also showed us how we felt challenged to hold a conversation, our inability to strike a conversation. How do you start a conversation with a family member? What do you talk about? A majority of us do not even know or remember the likes or dislikes of our close family members. The lockdown challenged us to face these questions or retreat behind the mobile phone screens. A sizeable number chose the latter. The lockdown taught us the challenge of holding a conversation and trying to hang on to it.
During my conversation with Tara, she revealed that from emotional isolation came the idea of the QuaranTeen Warmline, something extraordinary from the ordinary. Everyone, or at least a sizeable majority, is familiar with the term Helpline. But, the concept of a Warmline is not widely known. When she typed “Warmline India” into Google, the search threw up “Warmline Thermal Jackets’!
As the idea took shape Tara was ecstatic. She scrounged up all the money she could and put it in the setting up of the warmline. In the last week of April 2020, India’s first warmline was set up– a peer to peer support platform that would be a safe platform to share stories, stresses or loneliness free from judgement and criticism. It brought back the warmth of conversations even when isolated during the lockdown. The Warmline peer to peer supporters, team of five, include Veer Arya, Saniya Jaffer, Aanika Manghnani, Kian Khareghat and Nikita Singh.
Since the group was under lockdown, they operated out of their individual homes with a dedicated telephone line that connected six homes. Though the lockdown norms have been eased and lifted in India, Tara has decided to continue with it. The line is active from 4 pm to 10 pm every day. Each peer supporter is assigned one hour every day to answer calls received during that period.
The first two days after the Warmline was born the teens handled 80 calls and 60 direct messages. Until the last week of December 2020, the Warmline had handled 600 conversations from across the world.
In India mental health has always been a taboo subject, neglected and ignored. It is something that is spoken about in hushed whispers, something to hide. Experts point out that denial of the condition often renders the person without medical help, which further aggravates the ailment. Given this, the QuaranTeen Warmline is a small step towards a giant leap.
Haima Deshpande has 31 years of prolific writing experience in different avenues. She works as a researcher, journalist and writer for various publications.
Thrust areas of Research: Crime, Politics, Health, Women’s Issues. In India’s foremost digital journalist platform The Print, she generally pegs politicians out to dry.