In a welcome effort toward prioritizing mental health, Jammu and Kashmir has announced the setting up of a dedicated mental health authority. The primary objective of this authority is to oversee and regulate all mental health facilities within the region, ensuring they are properly registered and conform to established guidelines.
By integrating mental health into the broader healthcare system and ensuring oversight and accountability, this initiative has the potential to transform the lives of countless individuals in the region. It is true that Kashmir faces a mental health crisis and it has largely gone begging for attention. Earlier this year, the Lancet in a report on the National Tele Mental Health Programme (NTMHP) in Kashmir revealed the dire state of mental health in the region. Up until the Lancet report, the NTMHP had received 4000 calls from people suffering from mental illness and anxiety-related issues since the programme’s launch on November 4, 2022.
Kashmir has faced decades of conflict and political unrest, which has left a deep impact on the mental well-being of its population. The impact of conflict, trauma, displacement, and economic instability has exacerbated the prevalence of mental health issues in the region. According to a study carried out by the Doctors Without Borders in 2016, nearly 1.8 million people in the region suffered from mental health disorders. But it is clear that the number has since only further risen – albeit, we need to have a proper study to get an estimate of how many are afflicted by the disease now.
The COVID-19 pandemic 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 in the wake of the revocation of Article 370 in August, 2019. Compounding the growing mental health burden in the UT is the lack of adequate mental health services in the valley, creating a significant treatment gap. The launch of the NTMH has thus been a step towards addressing the problem 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. This is where the mental health authority will come in handy. It will go a long way to not only institutionalize but also deepen the penetration of the treatment of the mental health patients in the region.
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