Valley’s silent epidemic

A survey by Medicines Sans Frontiers has come out with chilling facts about the Valley’s state of mental health. According to survey, 1.8 million people in Valley show “significant symptoms of mental distress”. This means 45 percent of the adult population is affected. Of these, 1.6 million adults in the valley are living with symptoms of depression, with 4,15,000 meeting the diagnostic criteria for severe depression. According to survey, on an average, an adult living in the Kashmir Valley has witnessed or experienced 7.7 traumatic events during his lifetime. While 93 percent of people experienced conflict-related trauma, 94 percent experienced trauma due to natural disasters. The survey also said that more than 70 percent of adults have experienced or witnessed the sudden or violent death of someone they knew. The survey covered 5,428 households in 399 villages across 10 districts and was complemented by a series of in-depth focus group discussions.

There is thus little surprising about the fact that suicides are soaring in Kashmir. This place has seen enough turmoil over the past 26 years to make this state of affairs understandable. What is, however, shocking is that the government is doing little to respond to this extraordinary situation. The statistics present a grim picture. Some years before, a Kashmir University study put the number of suicides at around 17000. In 2011 alone, the SKIMS and SMHS, the two premier hospitals of Valley registered  1029 cases of attempt to suicide. 

The jump in the suicide rate has been more evident among the women. One startling fact that had emerged from the study was that around 2000 security personnel had also killed themselves.

Earlier, a study by Kashmir’s solitary Psychiatric Disease Hospital has revealed an increase from 0.5 deaths per 100,000 people in 1989 to 20 deaths per 100,000. In past,  the National Crime Bureau Records of India has pegged the Kashmir suicide rate higher than the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

This is a silent tragedy that has caught nobody’s attention. And the successive governments have appeared least bothered. The mounting number of mental patients has stretched the resources of Psychiatric Diseases Hospital. Besides, there is hardly any psychiatric care available in the countryside. Even district hospitals which are already short of the doctors in specialities like gynae, paediatrics etc lack psychiatrists. As a result, the stress-related diseases are mis-diagnosed  or treated as regular physical ailments. And this only worsens the problem. There is therefore an urgent need to upgrade the psychiatric infrastructure in  Valley, more so in district hospitals where it is non-existent. Besides, we need a response to the crisis at the level of community also. One unsavoury fact of the prevailing turmoil is that though we have suffered massively, those most affected by it have been left to individually pick up the pieces. There has been no collective response. We wish that our society gives up its indifference and seeks to evolve a community response to this depressing reality.

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