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A closer look at the state of mental health awareness in J&K

Years of conflict in Jammu and Kashmir have taken a toll on people’s mental health in the state. According to a survey conducted by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in 2015, nearly 1.8 million adults (45% of the adult population) in J&K show symptoms of significant mental distress.

This is compounded by the stigma associated with mental illness. Speaking to Jammu based psychiatrist, Dr. Devanshi Choudhary (name changed), the attitude towards mental health in J&K was illuminated on. ‘Most people don’t even realise that they’re going through problems mentally.’ explained Dr. Choudhary. ‘If you look at the situation in Jammu itself, let alone Kashmir, We have tons of doctors but hardly any patients.’ she stated. Mental health has always been a taboo and discussions related to it are usually hushed in a country like India.

The reluctance of people to even acknowledge that a person may be suffering through mental distress is unnerving. In most cases, a person ailing from any such problem themselves may even refute the very possibility. ‘People don’t want to know what’s wrong with them. Even when a person does come to see me, in most cases they refuse to listen to what I have to diagnose.’ Dr. Choudhary continued, ‘People have a high IQ but a low EQ(emotional quotient).’

Dr. Choudhary attributed the stigma related to mental health to our society being a conservative one. According to her, the only acceptable ailment a person is allowed to go through is physical. People are never allowed to think that their mental health is as important. Over the last few year, J&K has seen a significant increase in cases of Anxiety and depression. Clarifying the difference between the two, Dr. Choudhary explained ‘Depression is when a person’s past haunts them. Post traumatic stress disorder can often be a gateway illness for depression. Anxiety is when a person excessively worries about the future.’ She went on to further elaborate, ‘Anyone can go into clinical depression. Women are more prone to being depressed. 70% women fall into depression at some point in their lives.’

Speaking to some patients of therapy, they shed some light on their ordeal. ‘My family doesn’t even know that I go for therapy. It’s really a sad state of affairs. I don’t think my family is prepared to accept the fact that their son may be going through problems mentally. It was once my mental state started interfering with my performance at work, I made the decision to go see someone. I feel better now but I don’t want my family to get word of this.’ The patient refused to be identified. Another patient simply said, ‘The mind can be either be your best friend, or your worst enemy.’

The government has been taking active steps to counter the growing menace of mental disease and spread awareness regarding the same. In line with one of the recommendations of the In line with one of the recommendations of the Kashmir Mental Health Survey 2015 and the government’s efforts to increase community-based mental healthcare, Doctors Without Borders started supporting the Government of Jammu and Kashmir in the implementation of the district mental health programme in the Bandipora district of Kashmir. This support is meant to demonstrate feasibility of community mental health initiatives through community awareness activities and setting up referral linkages.

The collaborative data from the Government and Medecins Sans Frontieres indicates that in 2018, 4,327 counselling sessions were conducted. 34.6% of those were first-time visitors out of which. 60% first-time visitors were women. 32% of the overall patients belonged to the age group of 20-29 years.
The constant state of conflict over J&K is bound to have its toll on the people who’re caught in the middle of it all. When communication is shut down, schools and colleges are closed and life comes to a standstill, it’s important for the people to remember to keep themselves well physically as well as mentally. With the increased efforts of the government as well as multiple NGOs, it may be a long stretch to say that the stigma over mental health may soon be a thing of the past, but it isn’t one to say that a step in the right direction is being taken.



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