Any conflict situation inevitably gives rise to mental health disorders. Not many seem to have turned their attention to the deplorable situation in our own backyard.
Yes it is happening in Kashmir. A year-wise break-up of patients visiting the Government Psychiatric Hospital in capital Srinagar reveals that from a mere 775 people visiting the hospital in 1985, the number has soared up to 60,000 in the year 2006 alone.
In the first 10 years of the conflict, the number of patients at the Out Patient Department (OPD) of the valley's only government hospital for psychiatric diseases jumped from six per day in 1990 to 250-300 in 2000.
Seventy percent of the patients visiting the hospital are in the age group of 20 to 40. Of the people suffering from psychiatric disorders, 55 percent are women.
The commonest disorder is Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) followed by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Psychiatrists say that that no PTSD case was reported in the Valley before 1989. "PTSD was completely unrecognised in Kashmir till 1989 because the situation was peaceful," says Dr Arshad Hussain, a practising psychiatrist. Now, about 15-20 percent of patients visiting the hospital's OPD suffer from PTSD.
"The figures available at the Psychiatric Hospital in Srinagar are just the tip of the iceberg. What about those who visit primary health centers and hospitals at the sub-district and district levels?" asks Arajmand Hussain Talib, project manager at Action Aid International, Srinagar.
Shaheena from Bijbehara was brought to the psychiatric hospital in 2000, seven years after the incident that caused her her trauma. Her elder brother was among the 43 killed in Bijbehara on October 22, 1993, when bsf personnel opened fire on a procession demanding lifting of the siege on the Hazaratbal shrine in Srinagar. "Before coming to the hospital, the doctors whom I approached used to tell me to give up worrying. They were treating me as if I was pretending an illness," Shaheena says.
Most of the patients at the hospital refuse to talk about their problem. The hospital authorities have erected signboards prohibiting journalists from entering the hospital without permission.
The daily humiliation of Kashmiris at the hands of the armed forces contributes significantly to the feeling of depression.
"Whenever I come close to the men in uniform I get nervous and try to avoid them. My heart begins to palpitate fast and I become restless. I feel humiliated whenever they stop me for frisking at checkpoints," said Farooq Ahmad, a government employee posted in Srinagar.
Farooq hails from Anantnag town and has to travel daily to Srinagar to attend office. Though frisking for him is now routine, he has been taking medicines for anxiety for the past 10 years.
Psychiatrists in Kashmir have long been asking for better medical facilities to treat mental illnesses. Apart from the OPD facility at the Psychiatric Hospital, the OPD facility kept available at smhs hospital, Srinagar, receives more than 150 patients per day. The centre was set up on the persistence of doctors.
Doctors say that most of the people living in Kashmir have fallen prey to mental disorders like depression or anxiety. They feel the root cause is the high threat to life and the constant sense of insecurity among the people.
"People continue to be under tremendous pressure. They have been witnessing encounter killings, torture, rape, death and destruction due to bomb blasts. Then there are all these disappearances. This is quite enough for a person to suffer a psychiatric disorder," says S. Khurshid-ul-Islam, a sociologist.