Fake Valentines Day reporting at Free Press Journal

icall emotional distress helpline
icall emotional distress helpline
iCall Helpline for people in emotional distress as quoted fraudulently by Free Press Journal as betraying caller confidentiality.

Free Press Journal has published a story claiming that mental care helplines got increased calls in the week leading to Valentines Day. The article claims that mental health helplines are getting 20-25 calls per day from the heart broken and lonely and goes on to describe such calls and quote authoritative sources. The glitch? At least two of the sources are completely fake.

Paras Sharma, counselling psychologist and coordinator at iCall – a nationwide psycho-social helpline by TISS for people in emotional and psychological distress by Tata Institute of Social Sciences, who has been quoted in the article denies having spoken to any journalist from Free Press Journal.

Paras Sharma is described in the article as having disclosed confidential details about a phone call made to the helpline by a fourteen year old depressed girl in love with her friend’s boyfriend:

“She said that her friend and friend’s boyfriend were celebrating each day of Valentine’s week which she can only dream of as she is not that pretty. She said that she can never fall for someone else and will die out of the envy that she has for her friend,” said Paras Sharma, co coordinator of icall, which is under Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

“It was shocking for me as this girl couldn’t see that she has all time in world for falling in love and that many Valentines like this will come and pass by,” said Sharma.

Paras completely denies having said any such thing or even having spoken with any reporter at all about such a call, which to his knowledge did not happen at all and is a story invented by the journalist. He categorically states that their helpline routinely gets calls of emotional distress and relationship problems and there is no special increase for Valentines Day.

Aasra suicide prevention helpline quoted in this story too denies having given such an interview. This entire part is invented:

AASRA has also been getting calls from married ladies and divorcees.

A lady in her late 40’s called up AASRA saying she is feeling ignored by her husband off lately. Now that it’s Valentine’s week she was feeling even more left out as her twin sister who was married one year after her was going out with her husband and celebrating Valentine’s Day.

“She said that whenever she checked her sisters’ Facebook profile, there were many pictures which made her envious. She felt that in the ten years of her marriage she has grown older. However, her sister was still young. That is why her husband was ignoring her,” said Thomas.

Thomas said that the calls in the days nearing Valentine’s Day have risen because many people are preferring late marriages due to which feeling of insecurity has dawned upon them due to ageing and loneliness.

“The only support left with these people is of their friends who on such days are busy with their spouses, fiancées or boyfriends and girlfriends. Besides, due to monotony that life endows on these souls, they feel more detached from the world and purpose of their life in the absence of love,” said Thomas.

Thomas also said that feeling of being worthless and unimportant endows on such people.

Paras Sharma of iCall Helpline says that calls made to a helpline are confidential and while their organization does publish anonymized statistical information or other studies, it is unlikely any professionals will divulge salacious personal details of an individual caller in this manner.

It is irresponsible to publish invented news pieces that create a perception that calls to helplines are not confidential and that cases can be casually discussed in this manner and demands that Free Press Journal takes appropriate action against the reporter and editor of this story, whose names were not told to Paras.

It is unclear if the other sources quoted in this story are true or false.

Update: After Paras Sharma publicly denied speaking with the Free Press Journal reporter and asked for action to be taken against her, a reporter called Swati Jha has called up iCall to speak with him, accusing him of lying and denying what he told her.

According to Paras, when asked to prove he gave her the quotes, she said, “This is the problem with us in the media. We don’t record calls sometimes. Now I have no proof” on being asked to show her caller logs, “My cellphone only shows the last dialled number”. What sort of a reporter is this?

It is unclear why Paras Sharma and Aasra both would deny giving this reporter quotes. Also unclear why she does not have his personal number and calls Paras Sharma “Prashant”.

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