“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Srinagar’s lone mental hospital reports increasing psychological disorders traced to increasing competition and industrial activity

Kashmir on a Psychological Precipice – Where is the Civil Society?

The solitary government-run hospital for psychiatric diseases in Srinagar is recording the arrival of 12 fresh cases of patients every day, if a recent report were to be believed. Even as experts would have us believe it was a “global phenomenon,” the prevailing conditions and unending political uncertainty in the valley have combined to take a heavy toll on the mental health of its people. Hospital sources would tell us “post traumatic stress disorders and depression” most patients admitted there suffer from.

At present, around 150 patients suffering from various psychological ailments are admitted in the hospital every day, and their count is increasing by the day. Lately, a new category of patients are reporting at the hospital whose psychological disorders are traced to increasing competition and industrial activity. “A few years back, psychological disorder was attributed only to present conflict but, at present, there are multiple reasons behind the increasing numbers of psychological problems. Majority of them are related to environmental stress and over-burden of work,” doctors would tell us. Such patients, they assert, need extra care and prolonged treatment.

Incidentally, women constitute the vast majority of patients suffering from psychological disorders. It goes without saying that the valley has been through a virtual hell for several years past with thousands of women losing their husbands in the on-going turmoil. While most such widows are living in abject misery and penury, thousands of women have been traumatized following the enforced disappearance of their husbands after being picked up randomly by police or security forces. Described as “half widows” their plight is far more poignant as they assemble in or around the city centre at Srinagar every month to demand the whereabouts of their missing husbands from the callous government.

Lately, there has also been a sharply upward trend in suicides, with teenagers or youth being the victims in most cases. Reports suggest no less than 19 persons had taken the extreme steps in just 20 days during recent times. The alarming tendency is traced to several factors, including the increasing pressure of studies. Rampant unemployment among the educated youth has led to a highly explosive situation marked by growing frustration. Thousands of the desperate youth are believed to have become drug addicts as a result.

Going by reports, most people In the valley and the hill regions of Jammu suffer from psychological disorders, generally complaining of anxiety, depression, hysperia or post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). It is an open secret that every one is a victim of the conflict in one or other way.

Sadly, the state government, which is never tired of churning out lofty promises of moons and stars to the people, is brazenly unconcerned about this disturbing situation. In spite of claiming an investment of hundreds of crores of rupees on the improvement of healthcare infrastructure it has failed to provide for an effective and matching response to the mental health problems facing more than 90 per cent of the state population.

With the number of patients swelling by the day, the valley’s only Psychiatric Diseases hospital in downtown Srinagar, having outlived its age, is pathetically ill-equipped to cater to their needs. Going by reports, there is just one psychiatric doctor for every one lakh patients.

During his stint as the chief minister of the PDP-led coalition government, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, had emphasized the urgency of setting up of a “sophisticated” mental hospital in the valley, in view of the fast increasing incidence of mental disorders here. Inaugurating a 200-bedded hospital in the city’s cantonment area, he had also stressed the need for more trauma units and psychiatry clinics in hospitals. According to official reports, the Mufti had told health minister and senior officials of the ministry present on the occasion that they should think seriously over the construction of a sophisticated mental hospital. “During last few years, mental health of the people has got severely affected which has created this need,” he was quoted as having said. One wouldn’t know whether he had made these observations at the spur of the moment or it reflected a genuine, albeit belated, realization on the part of state government to fulfill the long felt urgency.

Apparently, no follow up steps appear to have been taken, even by his more talkative successor. Instead of getting its priorities right, the coalition government and its ministers and top functionaries continue to fritter away scant and borrowed resources on cosmetic and trivial activities and, in the process, the pressing needs of the people like education, healthcare, social services and civic infrastructure, are put on the back burner.

Incidentally, the absence of civil society players in the key mental health area has aptly aggravated the grim scenario, particularly in the valley. Indeed some reputed non-governmental organizations have been carrying out some activity, albeit on a modest scale, to create a cadre of dedicated para-counselors or to supplement government activities in the field of child guidance and counseling. However, given the magnitude of the problem, these feeble efforts can hardly make any discernible impact on the situation. It is time the government got its priorities right and initiated comprehensive measures for addressing the grave problem in the right earnest.

(as reported in the Kashmir Observer)