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Posted at: Feb 22, 2019, 7:05 AM; last updated: Feb 22, 2019, 7:05 AM (IST)

Kashmir witnesses surge in mental illness cases

Ignorance, stigmatisation keep it under wraps | Scenario alarming in Valley, says study by NGO

Azhar Qadri

Tribune News Service

Srinagar, February 21

Kashmir’s mystifying landscape, which earned it a sobriquet of a ‘paradise on the earth’, hides a dark new reality. It is fast becoming a sad place with “abnormally serious situation” as a large section of its population may be suffering from mental illnesses.

The situation has been aggravated further as fewer people understand mental health and illnesses. Its acknowledgement and treatment is overwhelmingly stigmatised.

In the past two years, since she was blinded by pellets, a teenager in south Kashmir has had recurrent nightmares, talked less, her mood swings frequently as she preferred to be alone. All symptoms suggest mental health issues.

With lack of awareness among her family, she was never taken to consult a psychiatrist. At her home in a sleepy village in Shopian district, the family focused on her physical injury and treated her behavioural changes and deteriorating mental condition as a new normal.

This lack of awareness about mental health is a reality across the Kashmir valley which also curtains the extent of mental illnesses in the region as studies and surveys suggest the situation is grim and alarming. “The number of people seeking help for mental illnesses is increasing but it is still low,” said Dr Arshad Hussain, professor at the department of psychiatry at Government Medical College. “The reality is that stigma and lack of awareness deter people from seeking help, even traditional help is only sought when the problem becomes very serious,” he said.

In the latest report on community prevalence on mental illnesses in Kashmir co-authored by the Institute of Medical Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS) and an NGO, Action Aid, researchers found that mental health scenario in the Valley was alarming.

The study, accessed exclusively by The Tribune, indicates that 11.3 per cent of adult population in Kashmir suffers from mental illness and the prevalence is more among women at 12.9 per cent than in men at 8.4 per cent.

The study confirmed “alarming levels” of mental health disorders with approximately seven per cent of patients with “point prevalence depressive disorders”, placing Kashmir among the “saddest places in the world”, said Hussain, who co-authored the study.

He said the figure which the study had established was more than double the national average as the report noted that the high prevalence of mental health disorders in Kashmir represented an “abnormally serious situation”.

The other alarming finding that has been noted in the study is that only 12.6 per cent people with mental illnesses have sought help from health services. “Only 6.4 per cent of those who had mental illness consulted any health professional,” it said. The reasons for low treatment levels, the study said, was due to “very high stigmatisation” and “very low awareness” about illnesses as well as about treatment and the inaccessible treatment at the community level. At Srinagar’s psychiatric hospital, recently rechristened as IMHANS, the number of outpatient visits has registered a drastic increase from an average of 100 per week in 1980 to 400 per day in 2018. This still is the tip of the iceberg.

According to another detailed survey — conducted by Medicines Sans Frontiers, IMHANS and University of Kashmir — nearly 1.8 million adults, constituting 45 per cent of the adult population in the Valley, may have “significant mental distress”.

The researchers had interviewed 5,519 people from 399 villages across all 10 districts of Kashmir and found that 41 per cent of adults had probable depression, 26 per cent had probable anxiety and 19 per cent had probable post-traumatic stress disorder. “The estimated prevalence of mental distress in adults in the Valley was 45 per cent,” the study found.

The study also noted that 64 per cent of the respondents reported “feeling low in energy” and 62 per cent reported “worrying too much” in the four weeks prior to the survey. Close to half of the respondents also reported difficulty in sleeping, loss of interest, feeling sadness, worthlessness and crying easily for no identified reason.


‘11.3 per cent adults suffering’

  • In the latest report on community prevalence on mental illnesses in Kashmir, co-authored by the Institute of Medical Health and Neurosciences and Action Aid, researchers found that mental health scenario in the Valley was alarming
  • The study indicates that 11.3 per cent of the adult population in Kashmir suffers from mental illness and the prevalence is more among women at 12.9 per cent than in men at 8.4 per cent

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