Corona helpline giving advice and emotional support to those in need
Is a court order on shared custody valid during restrictions on travel and a state of emergency? How do I protect my children from my violent husband? What do I do when I can no longer afford to pay my rent? As the coronavirus crisis deepens thousands of people are desperate for advice on how best to resolve their personal problems. Home office has cooped up families in small flats for weeks on end and relationships are crumbling under the strain, teenagers are driving their parents crazy because they can’t get out of the house. Older people living alone are increasingly depressed. One of the people out there who is working hard to help Czechs survive the crisis is writer, lawyer and former justice minister, Daniela Kovářová, who set up a Corona-helpline for the public in the spring. I spoke to her to find out who she’s helping, what advice she is giving and how the idea of getting involved emerged.
“At the beginning of March many people were disoriented. Naturally I wanted to help them, so I put together a group of lawyers from the Union of Family Lawyers which I lead. I created an email account for questions relating to family law and I and seven of my friends started answering questions and also responding to questions over the phone.”
How many calls do you get a day on average and who calls you for advice –older people or the younger generation?
“In the beginning it was tens of questions and then gradually it was more and more –in the spring we received some 6,500 emails in the space of just two months, so we needed more people to pitch in to help. So I asked my lawyer colleagues to help out and later on it was also therapists, psychologists, general practitioners, teachers, economists and other professionals. Our clients are representatives of all generations, but mostly parents, because most of the questions concern children and we also get lots of calls from elderly people.”
How have people’s attitudes changed in the first and second wave of the pandemic – is there a difference?
“Yes, there is a marked difference. We get fewer questions relating to family law and more questions relating to compensations. But one thing is very alarming. We are now speaking to a lot of very depressed people, people without any faith in the future. They have lost their joy in life. I think it has simply been too long –several months now. Moreover it is autumn, the days are shorter and there is less sunshine. All this contributes to the bad mood most of us are in.”
Is it true that there are more divorces and break-ups these days?
“After the first wave we recommended that people wait a few months before making such a big decision, to let their emotions subside. And I think our clients were patient, in this respect. But now there are more and more people filing for divorce. On the other hand, this is typical of any crisis. Everything is more visible – good relationships as well as bad ones.”
Do you hear about the negative effects of home office, when the family is stuck at home together all day, every day for weeks on end?
“You know, working from home has different effects on different people –introverts love it, extroverts hate it, but it is absolutely devastating for lonely people, elderly people and ill people.”
You said a lot of the questions were about children – how are they taking it?
“It is a very complicated time for children. There are big differences between families with motivated parents and socially weak parents who do not help their children with their homework and distance learning. Also, teenagers miss their classmates and the social contacts they were used to. Schools have more than just an educational role –they are crucial for children in providing a community where peers communicate face-to-face.”
Do you feel that the solidarity which was very strong in the first wave has been replaced by frustration and aggression?
“You know, some things cannot be repeated. The solidarity in the first wave was absolutely unique, despite the fact that even now I see many people around me helping. For instance many of my colleagues give advice for free and they have learnt to use a number of new communication technologies, which was not always easy for them because not everyone is good with technology.”
What makes the second wave so much harder for us and who is most vulnerable?
“We have noticed more psychological problems, more depressions, more nostalgia and more domestic violence. It is sad, but I am afraid that it will continue.”
What advice do you give most often?
“Our main advice is: don’t stay alone at home, ask for help, there are many professionals in different areas ready to help you. I think we will be giving that advice more and more in the future.”
What are your own tips for survival under these difficult circumstances?
“It is not easy to give one or two pieces of advice, because people are different. However my tips are: have good relationships with your family and friends, don’t be alone at home for a long time, do something that brings you joy every day, find time only for yourself, engage in sports or some physical activity twice a week, read good and optimistic books, watch happy-ending films, smile a lot and occasionally do something for others – that’s all!
Do you need advice? Contact the helpline at: Koroporadna@uracr.cz