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.
Featured image used for representative purposes only.