Valley’s Mental Health Burden

THE recent report by Lancet on the National Tele Mental Health Programme (NTMHP) in Kashmir sheds light on the dire state of mental health in the region. The programme’s launch in the region on November 4, 2022, has received 4000 calls from people suffering from mental illness and anxiety-related issues. This highlights the urgent need for mental health support in a region that has been neglected for far too long.

Kashmir has faced decades of conflict and political unrest, which has had a significant impact on the mental well-being of its population. According to a study conducted by Doctors Without Borders in 2016, nearly 1.8 million people in the region suffer from mental health disorders. The impact of conflict, trauma, displacement, and economic instability has exacerbated the prevalence of mental health issues in the region.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the situation, with lockdowns, fear, and uncertainty leading to an increase in anxiety and depression. In Kashmir, the pandemic followed soon after the seven month long security and communication blockade. So, pandemic lockdowns came as an extension of the prevailing uncertain state of affairs. Compounding the consequent mental health burden is the lack of adequate  mental health services in the valley, creating a significant treatment gap. The launch of the National Tele-Mental Health Program is a step towards addressing this issue and providing much-needed support to the population.

However, more needs to be done to address the mental health crisis in Kashmir. The program needs to be further promoted to reach a larger audience, especially in rural areas. There needs to be greater investment in mental health services, including training mental health professionals and increasing the number of psychiatric training institutes.

The issue of mental health is not unique to Kashmir, as it remains a major concern in India as a whole. With a population of 1.4 billion, India faces numerous challenges such as poor awareness of mental illness, stigma, high treatment gap, and a shortage of mental health professionals to manage widely prevalent mental illnesses. Most of these professionals are concentrated in urban areas, leaving rural areas underserved.

India was one of the first lower- and middle-income countries to adopt the Mental Health Program in 1982. While efforts have been made to increase the number of psychiatric training institutes and seats, more needs to be done to address the mental health crisis in the country.

With an estimated 1.2 billion mobile phone users and 600 million smartphone users, the NTMHP is expected to reach a large portion of patients, eventually reducing the  treatment gap. The use of telemedicine and technology-enabled care can go a long way toward improving access to mental health services in Kashmir and India as a whole.

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