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Clicking problems away


01 September 2009

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A new range of online services from psychiatric help to legal assistance over personal and professional problems are becoming very popular in India. Anonymous chat rooms and virtual support groups are helping thousands of people regain confidence and stability.

More and more people are now turning to the internet for psychiatric healing. They say, bravery is endurance for a moment more. But when misfortune befalls, even the bravest breaks down and looks for some solace in the external world.

Chat.jpg
Image credits: Google/ A woman chatting online in India

So did 21-year-old Sushmita Singh. After failing to come to terms with life even a year after her parents’ death, the young orphan thought of taking some professional help.

“After my parents’ death, I only had my aging grandparents for support. It was so frustrating.

Then, I thought I must take some professional help. So I fixed an appointment with a psychiatrist. But on reaching her chamber, I realised that there were other people who knew me. I left immediately as I did not want them to speculate on my emotional condition,” she recalls.

Then she tried another clinic in a locality relatively faraway from her home and workplace. But there too it was the same old story.

“By then I had realised that psychiatric clinics could not give me the anonymity I was seeking.

Although I wanted to be a part of group counselling sessions and know people with whom I could share my emotional upheaval, but anonymity was something I was not ready to compromise on. It was a hopeless situation. I was feeling as if I had hit a wall,” she says.

Healing solutions

It was then that she heard of circle2corner.com, and several other counselling websites that provided that much-wanted anonymity.

So, finally, she found in the virtual world what she was searching for in the external, material world — solace.

Singh is not a one-off case. There are tens of thousands of hapless people seeking solutions to their personal and professional problems in the cyber world from websites like Circle2corner.com.

"We handle close to 3,000 queries over the web and 1,000 over SMS per day"

Circle2corner.com, a one-year-old online support group, offers both free and paid counselling.

For advance services, the site usually charges Rs 49 for one question. The site claims that every month at least 67% of first-time visitors come back with more queries. The website sees around 5.5 million hits every month and 3,000 unique users per day.

“We handle close to 3,000 queries over the web and 1,000 over SMS per day. They are a mixture of relationship counselling, stress, work and career. We have 60 to 80 counsellors who take 12 hours on the web and 4-6 hours on SMS to answer those queries,” says Amit Basu, founder of Circle2corner.com.

The portal now is in the process of offering counselling over voice and, hopefully, within a month or two will initiate the process, adds Basu.

For most online counselling websites, the demand for counselling is augmenting with the increase in the number of people accepting professional help as a fair option. Also, these sites provide the user the required discretion and anonymity.

Legal assistance

Agrees Tarun Choudhury, senior partner at Legal Service India (LSI). Set up in 2000, LSI is perhaps the earliest portal to provide legal services.

“We have seen that 80 per cent of people prefer to connect through email. Besides, in India, no one wants to visit a lawyer. But we have seen that once they are comfortable with a lawyer, they might then meet them,” says Choudhury.

LSI charges about Rs 1,200 for a query. There are no additional charges in case of any follow-on questions regarding the same issue. Each query is replied within 48 hours. Each lawyer pays a one-time charge of Rs 3,600 to be on the directory of the site.

"We have a huge number of queries from non-resident Indians (NRIs)"

LSI has over 1 lakh active users and has at least 3-4 lakh unique visitors per day. The highest number of queries are related to family issues like divorce, adoption, maintenance and others, followed by tax related queries, criminal law, intellectual property and immigration.

“We have a huge number of queries from non-resident Indians (NRIs). Of the 1,000 queries that we get every day, at least 200-300 are from NRIs.

While NRIs prefer to meet the lawyers, Indian’s like to use just the advisory option,” he says, adding that LSI will soon allow lawyers to connect with users directly.

The trend is not just restricted to Indian portals. People are going on to international sites when it comes to seeking mutual understanding.

Counsellor online

For Deepti (43), wikivorce.com worked as a second opinion. “I did not want to depend on one source. So, I sought professional help online as this was cheaper and I could get counselling on various issues at one place.

Usually, each brick-and-mortar counsellor handles only one issue, so if I had a problem with my husband and another problem with my old parents, I would have to visit more than one counsellor, which I could avoid online,” Deepti said.

Wikivorce.com, which was launched two years ago and boasts about a new visitor every minute, is an online community that offers free access to information, support and advice for people going through divorce or separation.

Though the portal is UK-based, it has seen people from India logging on for advisory services. Wikivorce has over 35,000 registered members at present and 2,500 joining per month.

"My psychiatrist as well as the web community have given me a great emotional support"

It has around 40,000 pages of information on divorce fully indexed by Google — compare that to 20 or 30 pages for the average solicitor website.

While online chats about divorce and marriage troubles are multiplying on sites such as mumsnet and iVillage, specialist sites such as ondivorce.co.uk and divorce-online.co.uk, which claims 31,000 members, appear to be proof that divorcing couples are increasingly seeking friendship and advice anonymously through chatrooms and the blogosphere.

“My psychiatrist as well as the web community have given me a great emotional support. You either laugh or cry, but just to talk to someone who has also been married to an alcoholic and gone in search of bottles in the toilet is a big relief,” sums up Deepti.

 
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