Who Will Heal the Emotional Scars of Kashmir?
Kashmir is in the grip of another violent conflict. Hospitals are full of patients with severe physical injuries sustained during protests that have rocked the Valley for two weeks now.
In the midst of these turbulent times, who has been able to reflect on the emotional scars that the Kashmiris will suffer? These wounds may be invisible, but they are no less lethal.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
In May this year, Medicine Sans Frontier (MSF), an international medical humanitarian organisation, revealed a shocking detail on Kashmir. The survey conducted by MSF in Kashmir found that one out of every two adults was mentally disturbed due to the violent conflict of more than two decades.
The Valley’s “first comprehensive mental health survey” also revealed that one in every five adults in Kashmir was living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The survey studied the levels of mental distress among adults in all ten districts of Kashmir Valley. It was conducted by MSF in collaboration with the Department of Psychology, Kashmir University, and the Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience Kashmir.
The MSF report stated that Approximately 1.6 million adults (41 percent) in the Valley were found to be living with significant symptoms of depression. A majority of people had experienced or witnessed conflict-related trauma.
As the fierce uprising of July 2016 draws on, it is tragically clear that Kashmir will suffer on multiple fronts.
The MSF survey had found “high levels of co-morbidity of symptoms of depression, anxiety and PTSD” among adults living in the Valley. The experience of July 2016 will only aggravate it.
Psychiatrists and psychologists in Srinagar are aware of this distressing rise in post-traumatic stress, but are helpless to stem it. Dr Arshad Hussain, who has worked for over 16 years at Srinagar Psychiatry Hospital, sees up to a 100 patients daily. He has treated many young patients who developed depression after the uprisings.
Dr Hussain said the Valley now has an epidemic of mental health problems, particularly depression. He compared the way cholera used to hit Kashmir every year to the way depression now inflicts the region.
The physical and psychological impact of seeing near and dear ones bloodied, maimed, blinded, killed is devastating. It sears the mind and soul. Even in towns and villages not directly involved with the protests, the waves of pain travel.
Everybody in Kashmir has suffered this pain.
“A majority of people have experienced or witnessed natural disasters and conflict-related trauma (94 percent and 93 percent respectively). More than 70 percent of adults have experienced or witnessed the sudden or violent death of someone they knew,” the report stated.
July 2016 has seen the vicious, savage cycle play out in Kashmir again. As violent and bloody protests continue, the death toll is rising menacingly. The cries of the injured draw on. It is heartbreaking.
The Valley is under a strict curfew, with mobile phones rendered non-functional, and the Internet barred. The local cable services were also snapped at times, and the media has been gagged. In the current circumstances, it is important to understand the mental trauma of a Kashmiri.
With the severe clampdown, Kashmiris are feeling frustrated at being caged inside, cut off from what is happening in their own Valley. The communication jam adds misery to the trauma, because people don’t know what the situation is in villages and towns across the Valley, where their friends and relatives stay.
Due to the ongoing unrest and curfew, many Kashmiris have not able to get the medicines they require for their daily use for diabetes, gastric problems and other ailments. The continued siege adds to the mental agony.
Specialists from AIIMS have brought to the Valley to treat those with acute physical injuries. Such augmentation of the local medical services was severely needed. At the same time, there is dire need to acknowledge that mental health issues have unseen scars and vast damages.
Healing the Valley
How to deal with these mental and psychological wounds? How to heal the intense, agonizing damage that they cause?
The MSF study had found that 41 per cent adults (1.6 million) in Kashmir Valley were living with significant symptoms of depression. Depression was the most prevalent disorder in the Valley.
The wide-ranging MSF survey had found that the most-reported problems faced by Kashmiris were financial challenges, poor health and unemployment. It had advocated a comprehensive and integrated de-centralised prevention, care and treatment program for the Valley.It will take some years to track the savage impact of the violence of July 2016 on the Kashmiris.
‘For youth in Kashmir, mental health declines as conflict simmers’, a news-report had stated on its coverage of the MSF report.
The current conflict will aggravate depression, anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms within the Kashmiri population. The major challenge in handling these issues is the lack of adequate mental health services. The Valley faces a critical need to augment its mental health services.
How to offer culturally appropriate, effective and acceptable mental health interventions is the vital question for all service providers, experts and policy makers.
(The writer is a social activist from Jammu and Kashmir and can be reached at @AfanYesvi. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)