Mental Health in Kashmir: Not a Copy-Paste Approach 

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MENTAL health and psycho-social wellbeing is an issue confronting the world at large. Both in developing and developed countries, the issue of mental health has assumed newer and deeper dimensions. But a place like Kashmir, sandwiched as it is in the geopolitical rivalry between India and Pakistan has been a breeding ground for psychological and psychiatric disorders of all sorts. The political crisis that Kashmiris as people have witnessed has made them vulnerable to depression, anxiety, trauma and PTSD.

Decades of violence in Kashmir has had an unimaginable impact on the mental health of people here. The underlying political uncertainty had already augmented the socio-economic issues and now, COVID is compounding the problems, multiplying mental health issues and simultaneously burdening the mental health system in the state even further. Besides the well-known psychiatric disorders, the valley distinguishes itself by the fact that here we encounter psychological complications that sometimes even escape a specialist's profiling and demand customised assessment and treatment modules. This aspect has been usually overlooked and professionals have started stretching generalizations beyond their legitimate limits. But the typology and peculiarity of the situation demand that instead of working with sweeping treatment methodologies, patient-specific and non-conventional methods be explored and employed.

The unrivalled social transformation coupled with the unleashing of technological potential has plunged mankind as a whole into the abyss of wholesale existential crisis and psychological pandemonium. Never before in the known history of mankind have changes bombarded the human species so frequently and with such agonising consequences. With the invasion of technology and then more technology in our lives, human miseries at the deepest level have just multiplied in number and deepened in their ramifications. Having overcome the threats and obstacles outside themselves, human beings are now more scared by what lies within - an era of psychological and existential crisis has permeated the very existence of mankind. Urbanisation, industrialization and modernization have just culminated in man's alienation - from the self and the world. Happiness and meaningfulness are two indispensable denominations of human existence and the world we have landed in seems to be bereft of both these essentials. Both globally and locally, mankind seems to have compromised with mental health, exchanging it against restlessness for petty material gratifications and in so doing we have just made the deteriorating mental health an inevitable catastrophe. We are all at discomfort with our existence at deepest levels and despite this deep lurking danger sending repeated warnings, it just goes unnoticed and suffers gross ignorance at our hands - only to recur in much devastating and damaging manifestations.

Not just man's misplaced efforts and endeavours result in disorders of psychological and psychiatric order, but the direction in which the modern world has set itself rolling adds to these anomalies and abnormalities in unforeseen manner and magnitude. The phenomenon that needs unearthing and attention is to see the extent to which mental health providers - psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors have kept pace with these mutations of mental health disorders and the degree to which they have responded to the same. The fact remains that most of us haven't been prompt enough in our response to these mental health issues and the subtleties they are accompanied by. The accelerated proliferation and diversification of mental health issues has equally baffled the patients and doctors alike. The situation has been deplored by the negligence towards and at times ignorance of these mental health issues by the patients. The situation is further convoluted by the issues particular to our valley and the failure and incapacity to address these diverse and nuanced issues have only catalysed the worsening of the overall scenario.

Psychiatry and psychology are in the process of assuming critical roles in defining and guaranteeing the wellness of our overall health. Just that people have not fully awakened to the importance of the psychological dimension of health, the fields of psychiatry and psychology are yet to enter the domain of critical importance that legitimately belongs to them. "Mental Health in an unequal World", as the theme for this years', World Mental Health Day stands,  appropriately captures the uniqueness and diversity of Mental Health issues faced by people in conflict torn and economically underprivileged zones.

It so happens in these regions, like ours, that people are so busy fighting the battle of life and seeking their sustenance and sustainability that they end up being indifferent to their Mental Health issues. This naivety and gross negligence multiplies the responsibilities of Mental Health providers,who, in such cases not only diagnose and treat the patients but also raise the level of consciousness vis a vis Mental Health and its importance among masses.This places an incumbent responsibility upon the institutions and specialists to come out of their daily cyclic schedule and to reach masses in whatever form they can so as to mitigate the inadvertent Mental Health crisis that looms over the horizons.There is an urgent need to sensitize people to the intricacies of Mental Health and make them proactive in responding to any anomaly. This awareness has to flow in a top to bottom approach and psychiatrists have a heightened role to play in disseminating the prior knowledge and awakening masses,irrespective of their mental health status,to the effects of the same.

In a fragile zone like Kashmir early psychological and psychiatric intervention can be very helpful; both in mitigating the problem and dispensing information.But this process of early intervention builds upon the premise of positive and cordial patient doctor relationship.The scenario demands from doctors to leap out of their predesigned treatment, frameworks and modules and to adopt a holistic, sympathetic and integrative approach towards the patients. This early intervention and improved doctor patient relationship can account for systematic information within the overreaching reaching superstructuree of the  Mental Health care system.

A further descriptive and emancipatory role is supposed to be played by Mental Health workers in spreading awareness and thereby profiling mental health disorders like any other health disorder. The tragic fate of psychiatric patients is that they are subjected to marginalization, otherisation and unacceptance at social and familial levels consequent to their psychiatric /psychological disorders. This has played a ruinous character in preventing people from seeking early and timely psychiatric intervention, till they end up in situations beyond medical reach. An emancipatory awareness to this end can only flow from the experts of the field and unless this phenomenon of emancipation permeates the society we cannot expect any improvement in the mental health of the people, for most of the cases,s will go unnoticed as ever. This must awaken the psychiatrists and Mental Health providers to the task at hand and in so doing they must discover for themselves the roles beyond clinical evaluation and routine medicine prescription.

Views expressed in the article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

  • The author is a Srinagar based writer and columnist

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Amir Suhail Wani

The author is a writer and columnist

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