Mental Illness Cases On Rise Across Kashmir Post Aug 5, Say Experts

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One in five common Kashmiris have PTSD symptoms, reveals 2015 Study, experts say number has gone up of late

Mubashir Aalam Wani

Srinagar: The ongoing internet suspension and the three month long clampdown since August 5 has added to the already traumatized people of Kashmir as the number of people with various psychiatric ailments has shown a steep rise in the past five months.

According to wire service—Kashmir News Observer (KNO), nearly one in five people in Kashmir shows symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTST), according to a 2015 study by Médecins Sans Frontières and the Srinagar-based Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, or IMHANS.

Dr. Arshad Hussain, a psychiatrist who co-authored the Action-Aid study, calls Kashmir one of the “saddest places in the world”.

“The chaos that Kashmir has witnessed over the years has definitely deepened this problem,” he said. The situation has escalated as the clampdown coupled with the internet shutdown has added more to the figures of mentally sick patients.

The Kashmir valley has been on lockdown since 5 August, when Centre rolled back Article 370 and imposed curfews, cutting off communications on all platforms.

“If the instability and violence don’t subside mental health disorders are going to increase,” said Hussain.

The IMHANS and Action-Aid study estimated only 6.4 percent of people with a mental illness had seen a psychiatrist, and only 12.6 percent sought any kind of healthcare help at all. Hussain, the study’s co-author, says this is partly to blame on stigma and a poor understanding of mental illness.

An October paper by a group of academics and activists researching the crackdown in Kashmir reported that the programme was functional in only two districts amid “an acute shortage of psychiatrists” across Kashmir.

“It will be highly surprising if a few months from now we do not find extraordinarily high rates of PTSD,” wrote Dr. Anirudh Kala, a psychiatrist and one of the paper’s researchers.

For Fatima, a resident of Ompora, Budgam, her son has been declared mentally unwell with chronic symptoms of PTSD. “My son started behaving abnormally post August 5 and now he is being counselled and is on a drug,” she said. “I am not able to find out what happened to him. He gets irritated over small issues and starts breaking everything that comes into his way. His is just 10.”

An official at the directorate of Health Services Kashmir, while talking to KNO admitted that mental health programmes are limited and said that it’s still a goal to make district-level treatment more widely available. “We are working on it,” he said, wishing not to be named.

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