Amid Pandemic, This Survivor is Becoming Kashmir’s Mental Help    

At a time when mental health specialists are recommending window talks for the lockdown-weary community, a Kashmiri girl while connecting distressed people with experts is making it sure to talk and act on mental health in the valley.

Jyotsna Bharti

SUFFERING from bipolar disorder, Faisal Shafi was going through a terrible time in lockdown. The man in his mid-forties availed therapies until he could. But once his support system collapsed and threatened to further derail his already unsound mindset, his daughter sought help from a friend, who’s actively arranging mental consultations in the valley.

Founder of ‘Ittifaaq- United We Stand’, Nida Rehman connected her friend’s father to mental health specialists and averted the possible mental escalation case in Srinagar.

“We’re doing our bit by serving at the psychological front in these testing times,” Nida told Kashmir Observer. “A sound mind plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy body.”

The aim, she said, is to help in whatever way “we can and we will keep doing that to the best of our capabilities”.

Nida’s NGO has been working for a cause, mental health awareness, which, she believes, has not been given as much importance as it deserves.

“We keep getting calls from people currently grappling with mental stress,” Nida continued. “After giving them a patient hearing, we connect them with mental health experts.”

Nida’s mental awareness campaign started in the year 2014, when flood of biblical proportion unleashed a great mental distress in the valley.

Then, as a student of University of Kashmir, she started a few campaigns and programs with the help of her friends for children’s education.

“Kashmir is not a normal place like any other city or state,” Nida said, when asked about the motivation behind the NGO.

“People feel suffocated and want to run away. Maybe because of orthodox society and continuous hindrance in education, people here still lack the understanding of mental health issues which made a lot of children comfortable having a conversation with me, than their parents.”

In 2017, when Nida was doing well with the NGO programs, she started getting texts from Kashmiri teenagers on Facebook asking for help.

“I remember, one evening when I opened my Facebook account, I saw messages flooding from teenagers,” she recalled. “Asking for help, they feared of their identity being revealed. But when I assured them confidentiality of the conversation, they started opening up on their mental problems.”

Later those talks would motivate Ittifaaq to launch its first campaign ‘Beadaarr’ which means ‘wake up’, in April 2018. Nida updated posts related to the campaign on social media with hashtag “#let’s talk mental health”.

“To make people accept the problems, awareness needs to be created and that is what we are catering through Beadaarr,” she said. “But sadly, people initially thought that I was saying that all of us are mad in Kashmir. But with time, they understood and supported me.”

The campaign was fairly active and appreciated, which gave Nida more strength to go forward with more campaigns.

One campaign which gained a lot more traction was ‘Dil Chu Aamut Phatnas’ (My heart is tearing apart in suffocation), where people can share their experiences, thoughts and stories about their illness.

This campaign got a positive response from people and they started taking participation more than ever.

People came forward to talk openly about their fear, their issues and suffocations. The campaign tried to reach to everyone using the online and offline medium.

Nida and her team organised way more events and campaigns of ‘Dil Chu Aamut Phatnas‘ in cafes, colleges, universities, so that people could know more about it, as they realised that people want to talk.

Ittifaaq programme at a city cafe

The campaigns and events were going fine, until Kashmir lost its communication along with special status in summer 2019. Nida and her team couldn’t do anything, even after knowing what her people are going through.

This took a toll on Nida’s mental health, and she slipped in depression.

“It was a very hard time for me,” she recalled. “I remember I used to feel that my life has now come to a dead-end. All that I have tried to do in the alley seemed to be disappearing. Deserted streets, concertina wires, deafening silence, snowbound mountains, the uncertainty of life put in a spot where I just wanted to run away from this place, the place I have loved more than anything.”

But after 2G internet connection was restored early this year, Nida, with the help of her family and doctor, fought back the depression and returned to help more and more people with renewed resolve. This time she knows how it feels to get drown within.

Today, Ittifaaq is once again helping people to fight their stigma of mental health.

To provide assistance and help to needy, they put out the numbers of therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists on their Instagram and Facebook page.

Not just that, they also tie-up with the doctors from IMHANS to help the patients and assist them in this crucial lockdown of Covid-19. Many young volunteers also put up many entertaining and productive posts asking people in the valley to follow, so they can help people in their way.

Breaking the mental taboo and stigma, Nida believes, will surely help in fighting with disorders soothingly.

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