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From PTSD To Depression, Kashmiris Are Waging A Silent Battle Against Mental Illnesses

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Mental health, as the term suggests, is the ‘level of psychological well-being or an absence of mental illness’. It is the ‘psychological state of someone who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioural adjustment’. From the perspective of ‘positive psychology’ or ‘holism’, mental health may include an individual’s ability to enjoy life and create a balance between life activities and efforts to achieve psychological resilience.

According to the WHO, mental health includes subjective well-being, perceived self-efficiency, autonomy, competence, inter-generational dependence and self actualisation of one’s intellectual and emotional potential among other things. Furthermore, the well-being of an individual is encompassed within the realisation of their abilities, their ability to cope with the normal stresses of life, do productive work and contribute to their community. Cultural differences, subjective assessments and competing professional theories all affect how mental health is defined.

While the issue of mental heath has been a growing concern worldwide in contemporary times, Kashmir has also been witnessing a continuous and steady increase in the number of cases of mental illness, depression and anxiety among the people. Experts consider armed conflict to be one of the main reasons for the high incidence of mental disorders among Kashmiris.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Institute Of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS), Kashmir, 11.3% of adult population suffers from conflict and trauma-induced mental illnesses. The prevalence here is significantly higher than the national average of 7.3%.

Meet 50-year-old Hajira Bano, my distant relative and my next-door neighbour. She lives at the farthest lane of our colony near the market. Hajira is an epitome of immense courage, immeasurable valour and endless struggle. I must also say that she is a sheer embodiment of solid determination and massive perseverance.

However, she is also going through depression. She is struggling with some of the toughest hardships of her life. Perhaps, there is a tragedy behind her current predicament. The tragedy struck her on September 12, 2012, when she came to know that her elder son, Javaid, had died in his room under mysterious circumstances. Javaid was 26 years old, short and round-faced. He was a post-graduate in commerce and a government employee in the PWD department.

The loss left Hajira shattered – in a way, she died the very day her son left her forever. Days after the tragedy, she started to behave unnaturally – she used to cry aloud, then keep mute for a while and suddenly laugh. There was also a consistent shift in her behavior. She used to talk to herself, murmuring in a soft tone. She used to say that she was talking to her son ‘Jaye’, as she called him.

More than five years have passed, Hajira is still battling, struggling and fighting a war within herself. She has been diagnosed with depression which is considered to be critical yet curable. However, she does not believe in her state of existence. She may pretend to be normal, smile, laugh, and do household chores daily – but deep inside, she is like a hollow willow. Something has died inside her frail body, gradually, over the course of five years.

Here, it is a war-like situation, where death dances over the heads of people, day and night. Anything can happen to you or your loved ones anytime, thereby shattering the happiness and peacefulness of your life. In a situation like this, mental health has consistently been a casualty.

Irshad’s story is an example of how armed conflict hampers the mental well-being of the people there. Irshad Ahmad Dar, 19 years old, hails from the small village of Bakura. A cricket enthusiast once, he has a grave tale to narrate. He was the main pace bowler of his team, when disaster struck. In December 2016, he lost his thumb alongside severe injuries to the other fingers on his right hand when a teargas shell exploded in his hands during clashes with the security forces. The forces were engaged in a fierce gun battle with two militants, who were later killed in Khimber village, the village adjacent to Irshad’s.

Irshad had to go through multiple surgeries before his thumb was cut off from from his hand. “The doctors tried hard to save my thumb from being separated permanently, but they couldn’t succeed, as an infection had spread all across my hand,’’ he says. “The very moment I came to my senses and found a thumb-less hand , I was totally shattered as I wouldn’t be able to bowl now.” Ever since then, Irshad had confined himself to his room – silent and depressed. His family and friends have tried hard to get him back on track, but all efforts have been futile. He is currently being treated by a noted valley-based psychiatrist.

However, there are many more reasons for the rise in depression among people in Kashmir – social, cultural, economic, domestic, sexual, failure in love affairs, and many more. In this context, the Kashmir Mental Health Survey 2015, conducted by Médecins Sans Frontières in collaboration with IMHANS and Kashmir University was a commendable attempt in understanding the ground reality here. This survey was been conducted in all the districts of the Kashmir Valley, focusing mainly on most prevalent disorders like depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The findings confirmed a serious situation regarding the mental health of the people in the valley. It was found that common mental disorders were highly prevalent in the region and had reached near-epidemic levels. According to the survey, 37% of adult males and 50% of females were suffering from probable depression; 21% of males and 36% of females had a probable anxiety-related disorder; and 18% men and 22% women had been diagnosed with probable PTSD.

While the deteriorating mental health of the people continues to be an area of concern in this conflict-ridden state, there is an immense need to do away with this deadly monster. A possible remedy to this is the hand-in-hand co-operation between the both common masses and the administration in fighting it. Establishing more psychological counseling and rehabilitation centres can also prove to be beneficial. Furthermore, talking about issues like depression and mental health on open forums that do not stick to stereotypes and prejudices, is the need of hour.

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Featured image used for representative purposes only.

Featured image source: Daniel Berehulak/ Getty Images
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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