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Asia

Conflict in Kashmir Valley takes its toll on mental health

People in Jammu and Kashmir have long been victims and witnesses of violence, which can have a significant effect on their mental health. Studies confirm that psychological problems are on the rise in the state.

Recent shutdowns and curfews have had a psychological impact on locals in Srinagar

Recent shutdowns and curfews have had a psychological impact on locals in Srinagar

The Rainawari Psychiatric Hospital in Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar always buzzes with activity. It is one of the few facilities in the region that offers treatment for mental health disorders, many of which have been triggered by Kashmir's separatist conflict.

Many in the Valley have had near-death experiences, or have witnessed people they know being threatened or killed in over 20 years of armed conflict.

One in 10 in the Kashmir Valley has lost family members due to violence over the past 20 years

One in 10 in the Kashmir Valley has lost family members due to violence over the past 20 years

On any given day, hundreds of people line up at the dilapidated building to seek either counselling or medicines for stress and related disorders.

15 percent suffer from anxiety disorder

Kashmir’s noted psychiatrist Mushtaq Margoob has been seeing patients for over a decade. "15 percent of the population suffers from anxiety disorder. For some, life stops at a particular traumatic event and they relive the trauma over and over again. Their mental health is overwhelmed by the emotional state of death and destruction. Almost half suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder."

Ghulam Bhatt still suffers from the memories of a police crackdown in his locality a couple of years ago and the subsequent firing. He is now in counselling and comes with his family: "The flashbacks still come. I get scared and go into a corner and it takes some time to regain composure and become normal. It happens every now and then. Yes, I am taking medicine but the fear is still there."

The many shutdowns and curfews in the Kashmir Valley have also affected the locals psychologically. The killings of over 110 youths, mostly protestors, in the past few months triggered the biggest anti-India demonstrations in recent years.

Rise in use of sedatives

Margoob says the use of sedatives and drugs has gone up: "People cope with the trauma and negative emotional states by using anything, many substances to induce a temporary state of sleep and rest."

A study conducted by independent humanitarian medical aid agency Medecins sans Frontiers (MSF) found that a third of respondents suffered from psychological distress.

Nearly one in 10 reported having lost one or more members of their immediate family due to violence in the period from 1989 to 2005.

Daily life in Srinagar is often interrupted by strikes and protests

Daily life in Srinagar is often interrupted by strikes and protests

Another independent study showed that 29 percent of unemployed males in Kashmir smoked to relax and nearly 12 percent of the population, including women, took sleeping pills to overcome stress. Four percent of the respondents took drugs to reduce mental tension.

There are some populations that are more vulnerable," Margoob explained. "When we talk of adolescents and children, at an age which is more impressionable and is also an age of fantasy. Another group are women, especially in rural areas."

With no end to the conflict in sight, the mental health of many more is likely to be affected in the months and years to come.

Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Anne Thomas

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