People around the world are celebrating World Mental Health Week to support the ones who are suffering mental ailments, with the dual objective of spreading awareness, and ending the stigma that comes with the term “mental health.”
Whilst we talk about the world, we cannot, and should not, let go of the issue in the context of Kashmir, which has been under a lockdown for 68 days. When we talk about the Kashmir issue, not much attention is paid to the mental health crisis in the valley by the mainstream media.
As per the Kashmir Mental Health Survey (KMHS), nearly 1.8 m adults (45% of the adult population) in the valley are experiencing symptoms of mental distress with 41% exhibiting signs of probable depression, 26% probable anxiety and 19% probable PTSD. Subjects of the study reported that the gap between treatment need and provision in Kashmir is multifaceted and complex. Moreover, it was pointed out that the barriers to seeking treatment, included, lack of awareness of psychiatric services and therapies, travel time, cost and distance to services and poor and inadequate physical infrastructure.
While the research was conducted in the year 2015, the picture has not de-escalated, but deteriorated, only because of the number of casualties, the intensity of conflict, army occupation, and the aspirations of demanding freedom have overall increased.
Living in the Valley for a month this summer, and spending time with local families from more than 5 districts during my sojourn, I was able to conclude that there’s a deep-rooted fear amongst the families; majorly the women, about their family’s safety. And some even talked of being haunted by the thoughts of their spouses and children being harassed or going missing at any moment.
All these fears and apprehensions boil down to developing fear and anxiety and over a period of time, they lead to abnormal behavioural patterns and depression. According to normal human psychology and based on my own experiences, I can say, that having army personnel in every corner of the valley, at every short distance, with their hands on the trigger, all the time, is indeed deadly. Having to live with that sight, in front of your eyes for decades, is surely dreadful; the populace of Kashmir has lived with this reality for decades.
To shed some more light on the critical condition of the issue, an article by the Rising Kashmir in 2018, pointed out that there exists only one Psychiatric Hospital in Kashmir named ‘The Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences’ (IMHANS) in Srinagar, and it has only 6 doctors, who purvey services in another hospital, named SMHS, on a rotational basis. The hospital has the manpower of 4 staff which has affected mental health care in the state in a huge way.
After the abrogation of Article 370, the situation in the context of mental health has only worsened. The conflict has intensified, and the citizens have become hopeless. As soon as the population sensed something fishy during late July, after the increasing army occupation in the valley, the number of patients seeking mental health services increased, and the figure has been increasing ever since.
One report also highlighted the spiking sales of antidepressants and similar mental illnesses medications after the constitutional status of the state was amended. Not being able to talk to their family members; seeing dear ones with deteriorating chronic illnesses and still not being able to take them to the hospital or provide medications or feed them properly, lead to the further degeneration of mental health.
Below are some images which tell us of the mental health situation and crisis; quoting a few doctors.
What should be more shocking to all of us is news of children as young as 8-9 years old being treated for mental illnesses. Isn’t that a sign of the times?
It doesn’t seem like the situation will end any time soon. The only temporary solution or way out is to tackle this evergrowing mental health pressure in the valley. What can we do? Stand in solidarity and use the full power of the democracy, by demanding that the government ease the restrictions on the local citizens.
Other than that, solemn measures that need to be taken by the state and concerned authorities are: