With India already facing a mental health crisis, COVID-19 has put our unprepared mental health infrastructure to the test. The threat to life, coupled with the sudden disruption to routine and looming uncertainty of the future, has significantly increased the levels of stress and anxiety among the public. Though research states that mental health issues largely manifest in teenagers between the age of 14-16, the Indian youth do not have access to mental health care due to various reasons including:
(i) affordability (ii) lack of familial support and (iii) inability to make visits due to the lockdown.
This age group is particularly vulnerable to incidences of emotional, physical and sexual abuse at this moment as many are still financially dependent on families and/or are forced to live in hostile domestic living arrangements. Additionally, the Covid-19 lockdown has affected those already vulnerable to mental illness by cutting off access to mental-health care, putting counselling and medication out of reach for many.
Simultaneously, the economic downturn caused by the lockdown has resulted in several young employees being laid off, while making it difficult for new graduates to find meaningful employment.
The lockdown and social distancing rules have disrupted the traditional in-person mental health care model in India and highlighted the need for affordable and accessible online and tele services. The current online/tele-services system in India are either expensive, making it inaccessible to the majority, or are ‘suicide helplines’ that are available during specific hours and serve largely as ‘crisis management’ tools.
Through ‘LonePack Buddy’, an online peer support system, we aim to meet the need for accessible mental health care and provide psychological "first-aid" in a safe and non-judgemental environment. It is intended to supplement professional mental health care, and not replace it.
The entire LonePack Buddy system is primarily focused on offering the following three core features in an effective manner: Anonymity; Reliability; Ease of Use
All volunteers go through an extensive training and assessment process before they are on-boarded onto the platform. We have partnered with the MINDS Foundation, a US-India based mental health foundation, to create a training programme tailored to our youth audience that incorporates the socio-cultural nuances unique to the Indian demographic. The training course also includes multiple assessments and simulations to gauge the volunteer’s readiness and understanding.
We also believe that there is a significant need for a digital mental healthcare intervention in light of the lockdown. Indian youth, across urban and rural areas are very active on the internet, typically accessing it from their mobile devices. This can be seen from the fact that ~68% of Indian internet users fall in the age group of 12 to 29. With India seeing a 40% increase in internet usage during the lockdown, we believe we can effectively reach out to our target demographic via LonePack Buddy.
Our initial POC pilot over email had 400 email messages with 33 users.
As the next step, we had the soft launch of LonePack Buddy as a web app in May 2020, amidst the pandemic. Since launch we have had 22 people complete our training course successfully, with another cohort of 30 people currently in the pipline. Despite no advertising, we have had ~400 users signing up and have logged ~415 real-time chat conversations with >27K messages being exchanged. We have had meaningful conversations with our listeners providing support to users who were going through a tough time, either as a result of quarantine, interpersonal issues, family trouble etc.
3 in 4 users have self-reported an 80-90% improvement in their mental wellbeing immediately after conversations with a listener.
As youth access to professional mental health care in India continues to be a challenge, we aim to provide a reliable, safe and accessible service in the form of LonePack Buddy. To improve user experience and reach, we plan to launch a mobile app while also including support for vernacular languages. In conclusion, we hope to impact ~1000 users by the end of May 2021.
Direct feedback from users is the best way to gauge impact a service might have on them. Here are a few user testimonials-
“I liked the interaction. The person didn't come across as giving advice, asked a lot of questions about things in a very comforting manner. The person also empathized and focused on just trying things to feel better and giving me a push to just feel better about
myself. I'm really positive about this app and hope it makes a difference in many lives.”
“I had an experience previously with other online sessions. But it was not even useful. They didn't listen to what I said and kept on changing the listeners. But the Buddy was really great!”
Here is what you can do for LonePack Buddy
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About Battle of the Buffet
Battle of The Buffet (BoB) is an annual fundraising event organized by Chennai Mission, Manava Seva Dharma Samvardhini Trust, and Aram Porul to support NGOs based out of Tamil Nadu. Earlier, BoB was celebrated as part of ‘Daan Utsav’, a Festival of Giving. Due to COVID, this year BoB is celebrated in the month of Dec 2020.
This year close to 50 NGOs from Tamil Nadu working for various causes including COVID relief, education, health, livelihood, differently-abled are participating. Participating charities raise funds using this, while the donor gets exclusive access to entertainment and food from leading hotels, delivered at home.
Since its inception in 2009, this mega fundraising event has raised close to Rs. 30 crores, benefitting hundreds of projects and causes of NGOs.
Here is your chance to FUNDine to make a difference in the lives of people.
With a donation of ₹300 you can avail an exclusive access to a virtual event. If you donate ₹5000 you can avail a sumptuous dinner delivered home (home delivery within Chennai only)
To know more www.battleofbuffet.org