Recalling a stressed jobless man and a crying elderly woman

Among the 500 or so volunteers manning the National Care Hotline are Community Psychology Hub senior counselling psychologist Madhavi Manickavasagam (above) and Ms Noor Aaqilah Abdul Latiff, centre manager at PPIS Oasis Centre for Fostering.
Among the 500 or so volunteers manning the National Care Hotline are Community Psychology Hub senior counselling psychologist Madhavi Manickavasagam (above) and Ms Noor Aaqilah Abdul Latiff, centre manager at PPIS Oasis Centre for Fostering. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MADHAVI MANICKAVASAGAM AND NOOR AAQILAH ABDULLATIFF
Among the 500 or so volunteers manning the National Care Hotline are Community Psychology Hub senior counselling psychologist Madhavi Manickavasagam and Ms Noor Aaqilah Abdul Latiff (above) centre manager at PPIS Oasis Centre for Fostering. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MADHAVI MANICKAVASAGAM AND NOOR AAQILAH ABDULLATIFF

The elderly woman who called in seeking support was crying, saying repeatedly that she needed a specific spice from the supermarket.

Listening to her was Ms Madhavi Manickavasagam, 37, who is one of about 500 volunteers manning the National Care Hotline that was launched on April 10.

Ms Madhavi, a senior counselling psychologist at the Community Psychology Hub, volunteered because she believes that providing early support could reduce the demand for longer-term mental health services three or six months down the road.

Having done three day-time shifts and taken about 18 to 20 calls, the call with the elderly woman particularly stuck with her.

"On the surface, it seems easy to dismiss her concern as trivial, but the underlying issue was that she was lonely and fearful of the coronavirus situation," she said.

"For me, my sister and I are looking after my dad, but there are many other elderly who may not have anyone to depend on."

For Ms Noor Aaqilah Abdul Latiff, 42, volunteering with the hotline is quite different from her usual work.

She is the centre manager at Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura (PPIS) Oasis Centre for Fostering, and also a registered social worker.

She deals with foster children and families, and manages a team of case workers."I wanted to do my part for the community during this difficult period and PPIS also encouraged qualified staff to volunteer," she said.

The organisation has nine staff volunteering to man the helpline.

Ms Aaqilah has done three shifts - two during the night from midnight to 8am - and answered five calls. She said she tries to help normalise the situation for the callers, and validate and affirm their concerns, while directing them to suitable resources.

One of the callers said the Covid-19 situation had impacted his ability to look for a job, and his relationship with his family was also very strained. "So he had double the stress, as he had to stay at home and could not go out to find a job," said Ms Aaqilah.

She told him he could get in touch with his medical social worker, as he had an existing medical condition, and the social worker could also help him with the job hunt.

"He was focusing on not being able to leave the home, but he already had resources at hand.

"So I helped him to realise that he could still make calls and prepare for when he gets to go out again," she added.

Goh Yan Han

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2020, with the headline Recalling a stressed jobless man and a crying elderly woman. Subscribe