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These free online support groups help deal with pandemic blues

Pandemic-induced stresses far from over? Here are five online support groups to check out

A number of psychologists, artists, and social justice warriors have come together to start listening circles and support groups on Zoom and other online platforms.
A number of psychologists, artists, and social justice warriors have come together to start listening circles and support groups on Zoom and other online platforms. (Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash)

The pandemic has taken an immense toll on our collective mental health. From the chaos of the initial lockdowns to the inexplicable trauma of the second wave, it has been a rough year-and-a-half. Our sense of community was the first rug to be pulled out from under our feet, as most of us experienced extreme isolation for the first time in our lives. During this time, a number of psychologists, artists and social justice warriors have come together to start listening circles and support groups on Zoom. These meetings are free of cost, have at least one trained mental health professional on board and offer a safe space for people to process their reality.

For adult survivors of child sexual abuse

The unexpected lockdowns led to a lot of people being stuck in their hometowns for far longer than they had planned. For many survivors of abuse, this meant staying in close quarters with their abusers and/or those who enabled the abuse. It is to provide a safe space for such people that Open Minds Foundation went online with their monthly meetings.

The foundation is helmed by Maya Menon and Sarika Pandit, a yoga teacher-counselling psychologist duo based in Mumbai. “The pandemic saw an eruption of stress, anger and depression among those with a history of abuse. Our goal is to help survivors believe that what happened to them was not their fault,”says Menon.

The meetings begin and end with breathing exercises. There is an optional round of introduction for new members and then, the floor is open for those who wish to share.“There is absolutely no compulsion, however,” Menon emphasises. And in case of triggers, participants are encouraged to drop off the call and take a breather. “Sarika and I are trained in emotional first-aid, so we can help you process your difficult emotions outside of the session if needed,” she adds.

Open Minds Foundation is on Instagram

For coping with the ‘meh’

Talking about feelings is not everyone’s cup of tea. Some like to write, some make art. The Writing for the Meh and Doodles for the Meh sessions are for those who like to process their feelings on paper. Organised by Mithra Trust, the meetings are aimed at helping people manage the ‘meh’ — a blanket term for the whole spectrum of feeling ‘not okay’.

The sessions are facilitated by psychologist Bhairavi Prakash and author-artist Adwaita Das. “The simple act of drawing patterns lets us pay attention to the emotions bubbling in the back of our minds. I encourage participants to scribble, draw lines, or come up with their own designs,” says Das. Writing, of course, is a more direct way of confronting one’s feelings. “By giving out fun prompts, we help people have a conversation with themselves,” they add.

Over time, the facilitators have weaved breathing exercises, gentle movement and trigger warnings into the sessions to better contain the difficult emotions that come up for the participants.

Mithra Trust is on Facebook and Instagram

For single parents

They say it takes a village to raise a child. And yet, a lot of single parents were left to do it all by themselves during the pandemic, while also coping with job instability, health scares and countless other issues. The Village is a community of desi single parents from across the globe that has come together to support each other during this time.

Laila Zafar, a lawyer and founder of the group, says, “A lot of single mothers lost their jobs, while many were stuck in their marital homes. More so than ever, we only had each other to lean on, so our Instagram community and Whatsapp group became super active during the pandemic.”

The 100-strong community includes a number of mental health professionals, doctors, lawyers and professionals of many kinds. “Every member brings something to the table,” says Zafar, who offers legal advice to those engaged in custody battles.

Also Read: Is online therapy a boon for mental health in India?

The impact the pandemic has had on the children is something we cannot fully understand at this time. During the peak, Afeefa Husna’s six-year-old daughter was prone to temper tantrums. “It was incredibly helpful when one single mom from the group organised storytelling sessions to engage the kids, while another suggested websites that offer advice on teaching them to express themselves better. If nothing else, it was a relief simply to share my story and hear my experiences echoed in that of others,” Afeefa says.

The Village is on Instagram

A space to journal, dance or just be

There are times when we need to talk to feel connected and supported. And then there are times when just being around people is therapeutic in itself. One Future Collective organises online community spaces where participants can work, journal or engage in movement together.

The collective was formed as a social justice organisation in 2017 and when the pandemic hit, a Twitter call brought together the core team for the Covid Mental Health Project. Besides offering free one-on-one counselling sessions (upto six per person), they also organise weekly meetings on various themes.

“To address heavy issues like grief and anxiety, we have closed sessions with the same set of participants over four consequent weeks — this is to ensure people have the time to warm up to the group. There are also open sharing circles held on weekly topics such as work-life balance, brain fog, etc,” says Rayna Mehta, a psychologist who facilitates some of these sessions.

One Future Collective is on Facebook and Instagram

For people with disability

The pandemic was perhaps the hardest for people with disability. Says Sanket Bhirud, a 28-year-old HR professional who lives with near-total blindness: “Mobility became almost impossible when Covid cases were rising, as people — who are generally very helpful — became wary of coming in contact with anyone. Besides causing numerous logistical issues, this also led to extreme isolation for many in the community.”

This was when Insight, an online support group for people with disability, met every week or even twice a week sometimes. The initiative was started in 2019 by Tanya Ginwala, a clinical psychologist, and Dr Ashwini Mahajan, an ophthalmologist, with the goal of providing psychosocial support for the community.

While the focus is on keeping the meetings a non-judgemental safe space where people can express themselves and be heard, the members are always happy to discuss solutions and “hacks”, Bhirud says. Topics of discussion range from ableism and challenges at the workplace to food, romance and relationships.

Insight is on Facebook

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