Exploring Kashmir’s Mental Health: Breaking the Silence and Building Resilience

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                                          (Image Source- Google| Image By-Scroll)

What if I tell you that there is no mental health care in heaven? The question that arises may create a dilemma. The question is: Does heaven need a mental hospital? Let’s find out

Kashmir is called the Paradise on Earth. The Parrot of India (Tutu-i-hind) said, “Agr Firdous baro-e-zameen ast, hameen ast o hameen ast o hameen ast,” meaning, “If it is heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, and it is here.”

 

Demographic Context:

The Himalayan valley shares its boundaries with three nuclear powers: India to the south, China to the east, and Pakistan to the west. The valley has three parts: Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh. It covers a geographical area of 15,948 km2, with a population density of 430/km2. The former state of J&K was bifurcated into two Union Territories (UTs): J&K and Ladakh, by the state reorganization act of 2019. The total population is 6.9 million, with 73% living in rural areas and 27% living in urban areas (2011 census). The majority of the population follows the faith of Islam, with 97% Muslims, along with other religions sharing 3%. The main languages spoken are Kashmiri and Urdu, apart from some Gujar and Bakar languages.

Political Background:

Since the partition of 1947, the Kashmir valley has faced political insecurity and instability. Following the wars between India and Pakistan (1947, 1965, and 1971) and the China war (1962), a large number of militants entered the valley in 1989 and 1999, marking the beginning of militant and military activities. In 1999, some militant organizations captured strategic positions in the Kargil region of Ladakh. The most affected region was Drass in Kargil, Ladakh. Later, it was found that those militants were none other than the Pakistani Army itself. This is known as the Kargil war of 1999, a milestone in the militant movement and terrorism in the valley. By the year 2012, 7,000 Kashmiris had lost their lives in the conflict, and 10,000 people had been reported missing. The Kashmiri population has been exposed to traumatic events due to political instability.

Economic Background:

Talking about economic stability without political stability would be like making castles in the air. A survey conducted by the Ministry of Labor and Employment in 2012-13 found that Kashmir had the highest youth unemployment rate across India. The youth have developed a vibe of hopelessness, a sense of failure, suicidal thoughts, disappointment, drug addiction, and other mental illnesses.

Moreover, the private sector has drastically failed, and foreign investment (such as MNCs) in the disputed region is merely a dream. This has restricted the development of the private industry. The tourism industry, which provides a livelihood to thousands of people, is fully unreliable under the prevailing situations and past experiences. Hence, the demography, political instability, and economic crisis have resulted in a hike in mental illness cases in this region. Further, COVID-19 has worked as fuel to the fire.

Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS), situated in the heart of the capital, Srinagar, has experienced an increase in the number of patients, from an average of 100 patients per week in 1980 to 850 patients per week in 2016. Other possible factors for signs of mental distress in the Kashmiri population include older age, unemployment, divorce or separation, late marriages, loss of dear ones, inferiority complex, and living in rural areas, among others.

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However, Kashmir is not the only case. Other countries such as Turkey, Yugoslavia, and Iraq suffer from the same situation. The Himalayan Valley has been under political turmoil for about two decades, which imposes an enduring psychological impact on the Kashmiri people. According to a Mental Health Survey done by Médecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) in collaboration with the University of Kashmir and the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, nearly 45% (approximately 1.8 million adults) of the Kashmir valley’s population experience some form of mental distress. This survey is the third of its kind, with the first one conducted in Iraq and the second in Syria.

 

Demographics of Mental Distress:

Higher rates of mental distress were reported in women in comparison to men. However, Alexithymia is higher in men. Culturally, Kashmir is a patriarchal society where men are considered weak if they show emotions, so they often escape or move outside their homes. On the other hand, women cannot move out of their houses and are at a disadvantage.

 

Women – Worst Hit:

The patriarchal and conservative society of Kashmir has resulted in the interdependence of Kashmiri women. They face humiliation and domestic violence, which leads to the development of mental illness. They remain quiet mainly because of financial dependence and for the sake of children. A survey conducted by Doctors Without Borders MSF in 2015 found that 50% of women in Kashmir suffered from probable depression, 36% had an anxiety disorder, and 22% experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

 

Barriers to Mental Health Treatment:

Worldwide, 450 million people experience mental health disorders, but few seek access to services. Kashmir is no exception to the situation prevailing worldwide. “We see around 200-300 patients with mental health symptoms every day, but due to stigma, most people do not seek any medical consultation,” says Dr. Javid. The truth is that most people hide their mental condition because of the so-called social taboos. Other barriers to mental health consultancy include stigma, discrimination, ignorance, and neglect.

 

Kashmiri Stigma:

When someone develops symptoms of mental illness, a local Kashmiri often seeks help from a faith healer. Locals believe that it is the effect of some kind of witchcraft or supernatural powers. The faith healer ties an amulet, and later circumstances worsen.

Wrong Coping Strategy:

The stressor can be a situation, event, person, or anything that leads to stress. The various stressors could be financial issues, poor health, unemployment, and family problems. In order to cope with these daily life stressors, a person adapts some defensive mechanisms or strategies. This adapted strategy could be optimistic or pessimistic in nature. Unfortunately, most Kashmiri people have adapted the wrong coping strategy. In order to escape from the hard realities, 30% of Kashmiri adults use tobacco in its various forms, and at least one person in a family uses it. Smoking has become the coping strategy for the entire region.

 

Lack of Mental Health Infrastructure – A Major Barrier:

“There are only two hospitals in the whole state (she didn’t know it is a UT) – one is in Jammu and the other is in Srinagar. To reach this place is not affordable,” says a 60-year-old woman from Kupwara, Kashmir. Roughly, with a population of 12.5 million, there are only 41 psychiatrists (according to the census). Even these 41 psychiatrists are associated with teachingprofessions in hospitals. On the other hand, nearly one in five people in Kashmir show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “It’s a crisis,” says Kashmiri psychiatrist Dr. Margoob.

Apart from limited counseling, non-availability of psychiatrists and psychologists, and poor physical access to a single hospital in the entire valley, 11% of adults in Kashmir have been taking benzodiazepines, with many taking them for a year.

 

A Relief for Patients – National Mental Health Program (NMHP)

In 1999, the National Health Plan (NMHP) was initiated by the government. Alongside the National Mental Health Program, each district developed its own Mental Health plans called District Mental Health Plan (DMHP). However, a review of the plan in 2012 shows that it was barely functional and proved to be a total failure.

 

Vitasta: A Suicidal Spot of the Valley

Recently, a lady committed suicide by jumping into the Jhelum River in the Noorbagh area of Kashmir. Before that, there was an incident where a 45-year-old man ended his life in the same way. The whole valley froze after hearing the news of a 17-year-old girl who ended her life by jumping into the meander River. In Baramulla, passersby saved a girl from jumping into the Jhelum River. In March, news spread like a forest fire when a man took his life by jumping into Vitasta at Qamarvari Srinagar. The cases of hanging, poison intake, and crimes are yet to be discussed. According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), suicides are said to have claimed the second-highest number of lives after militancy. The National Human Rights Commission also showed serious concern over the mental healthcare facilities within the country as a whole. Its report showed the “inhuman and deplorable” conditions of all 46 government mental healthcare institutions.

 

Mental Health Care Act, 2017:

Taking into consideration all the reports of reputed commissions and agencies, the Government of India passed the Mental Healthcare Act of 2017, which came into force on May 29, 2018. It superseded the existing Mental Health Act of 1987. Apart from other changes, the major changes introduced by this act are:

It decriminalized the attempt to commit suicide. Previously, the attempt of suicide was a punishable offense under Section 309. The act ensures that individuals who have attempted suicide are offered counseling sessions along with rehabilitation facilities.
It also ensures the right to access healthcare services. Another highlight of this act is to protect the rights of mentally disabled persons and ensure proper treatment is available to patients.

 

Mental Healthcare Act of 2017 – With Respect to J&K

After the abrogation of Article 370, which was the only hindrance in the direct implementation of central laws, locals would have assumed that the Mental Healthcare Act of 2017 would have been passed and implemented in J&K. However, this is not the case, and people’s assumptions are wrong. What is stopping the government from implementing the policy is the question of millions of people living in the valley.

                                             (Image Source- Google| Image- JK bank)

India has launched its first ‘Tele-MANAS’ chatbot in J&K to provide 24X7 services:

a significant step in improving mental health services by introducing the ‘Tele-MANAS’ chatbot in J&K. As the country’s first of its kind, this chatbot aims to provide round-the-clock assistance and support for mental health concerns. With this innovative technology, individuals in J&K can now access mental health services anytime, anywhere, ensuring timely help and guidance. The launch of the ‘Tele-MANAS’ chatbot is a positive stride towards addressing the mental health needs of the population and promoting greater accessibility and convenience in seeking mental health support.

“Article Credit- Razia Paras”
 
Read More: Politics
 
What do you people think about it? Does heaven needs mental hospitals? Please comment below and Share it to Spread Awareness.

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11 thoughts on “Exploring Kashmir’s Mental Health: Breaking the Silence and Building Resilience”

  1. This is so pathetic to know government should take some serious steps to improve the condition of people and people should go towards the Yoga and meditation without Being conservative…

    EVERYTHING WILL BE BETTER SOON HOPE ….

  2. Very well articulated blog, inadvertently nailed it. I love the flow of thought, which is amazing and eye-catching and they ways connect it all is simple superb. The topics that are picked and chosen by blogger is icing on the cake. Political party and socialists have to pause and ponder on this burning issue. Keep blogging and posting more Razia Paras ji.

  3. Very well articulated blog, inadvertently nailed it. I love the flow of thought, which is connected amazing by the blogger and eye-catching thoughts for political leaders and socialist too. Wake up call. The topics that you piked and choosen by blogger is icing on the cake. Keep blogging and posting @ Razia Paris ji. Waiting for more informative and content based blogging.

  4. Government of India is taking a lots of good initiative for kashmir( heaven of earth). But this is really a concerned topic for government and people of Kashmir.

    This article gave good knowledge. And I appreciate the efforts of @raziaparas

    Keep blogging.

  5. Manoj Kashyap

    Yes we need to take step in this regard. We should provide best specialist of mental health. We can also motivate them for yoga and meditation it will bring improvement in their health. Govt should take action as soon as possible. Jai Hind 🇮🇳🇮🇳🇮🇳🇮🇳

  6. Courageous of u to talk about the sensitive issue, loved ur articulation,highlighting the topic considering different frames of refrences,difference of opinion can be there but u had hit the bulls eye with this piece…more power to ur pen…basit

  7. The way you described this issue is commendable. This shows your knowledge and awareness about your country…

  8. It is believed that mental health will hinder individuals from achieving the standards and goals- whether academic, social, career-based, or other- expected from parents. Health is believed to balance positive (yang) and negative (yin) energy in the body.

  9. Suhail Abass

    Important and crucial message to all the people
    We need a mental hospital in the paradise for the fruitful future of valley.

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