Psychologists in Indian occupied Kashmir have expressed fear over the alarmingly increase in mental health patients seeking help for stress, anxiety and other mental health concerns in the wake of the draconian security lockdown and unprecedented curfew.
A report by The Guardian provided insight into the ongoing psychological challenges faced by the people in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.
Kashmiris Battling Mental Health Challenges
Abdul Hamid, a clinical psychologist serving the Pulwama and Shopian districts of occupied Kashmir, said that there has an alarming increase in patients complaining of stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and heart-related complications during the past 80 days.
I fear getting arrested, then what will happen to my family? Or if I am hit by bullets or a teargas shell. I didn’t expect [the lockdown] to be so long and uncertain
He said that people are combating the psychological challenges of living in perpetual fear of “army raids, torture and arrests”. Dr. Hamid explained that patients who were learning to manage their psychological symptoms are now struggling with relapsing given the atrocities committed by the Indian occupation forces.
Syed Ruhi, hailing from Kashmir’s Pulwama district, has been dealing with mental health challenges for the last two years, however, she had learnt to manage and control her symptoms. However, the ongoing security lockdown and barbaric restrictions have reignited her symptoms. The communications blockade and stoppage on internet and mobile services had left Ruhi unable to learn about her boyfriend’s whereabouts.
As men in the valley are increasingly being arrested and detained, Ruhi finds herself distressed, prompting a visit to the district hospital’s only psychiatric clinic. She said, “When someone says that the situation is not normal outside I feel mentally unwell.”
The visit to the psychiatric clinic proved to be fortunate as she got her medications, and also managed to see her boyfriend.
Anxiety, Stress & Insomnia
The report reveals that each day, more than 170 patients visit the psychiatric facility-the only mental health facility for the people living in Shopian and Pulwama districts. However, the number of people who need mental health treatment is likely to be far more than the patients as the communication and transport blockade has rendered many patients unable to reach the hospital.
22-year old Mustafa Ahmad is another patient who relapsed due to the ongoing situation in Indian occupied Kashmir. A year ago, his condition was much improved and he stopped his medication, however, the lockdown has triggered a return of anxiety and insomnia for Mustafa.
He said, “I would normally wake up at 7am and go to the gym before working from 10am till 6pm. Now I can’t sleep until 2am.”
Narrating his ordeal, Mustafa added, “I sleep during daytime because there is nothing to do. (The) gym is also shut.” Mustafa complains of sleeplessness and nightmares which has prompted him to rely on sleeping pills for the past seven weeks.
He said, “I fear getting arrested, then what will happen to my family? Or if I am hit by bullets or a teargas shell. I didn’t expect [the lockdown] to be so long and uncertain.”
A survey conducted by Médecins Sans Frontières in 2015 revealed that around 1.8 million Kashmiris adults, which constitutes 45% of the entire population, exhibit symptoms of mental distress. More than 41% of the popular reveal signs of depression, 26% suffer from anxiety, and 19% reveal symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
In Kashmir,Curfew has taken toll on mental health(nearly 1.8 million adults).
Médecins Sans Frontières,
Signs of mental distress: 45%
Signs of depression : 41%
Signs of anxiety : 21%
Post-traumatic stress: 19%
— Tajamul Islam (@tajamulislamm) October 23, 2019
Dr. Aijaz Ahmad Khan, another clinical psychologist serving at the SMHS mental clinic, observes that the situation continues to worsen. He said, “A week after August 5, we saw a change in the patients. We started having patients who had psychological disturbances. It is increasing since then. There is emotional numbness and it is increasing.”
Dr. Aijaz explained that around 10% of the patients come with complaints that are associated with the security lockdown. He said that a year ago, the Srinagar-based clinic was visited by 70 to 80 patients a day, but now, the number has increased to 130 to 150 a day.
Zoya Mir, a clinical psychology student at Srinagar’s Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences expressed fear for the future. Mir, who is experience panic attacks herself, said, “We have become resilient to pain, feelings, and emotions. There will be a point where it will be beyond repair.”
Mir said that people are unable to communicate with one another, and even if they can, there is no positivity to share. She explained that millions across Kashmir remain unable to use internet services and mobile phones, and even though New Delhi claims that landlines have been restored, they are unreliable.