Srinagar: Hundreds of pellet victims injured during the 2016 uprising are at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as the government’s health department has discontinued its rehabilitation plan.
Rendering the survivors highly vulnerable to PTSD, the health department has stopped its much-hyped, community-based counselling programme.
“Some of the survivors who come for follow-up treatment at the Orthopaedic and Ophthalmology Department were put on rigorous counselling and medicines as they started showing symptoms of PTSD and other serious psychological disorders. However, most survivors are also deprived of proper treatment as they don’t turn up at the hospital for a variety of reasons,” said a psychiatrist on condition of anonymity.
The issue could have been addressed, he said, by a community-based counselling programme that would have treated patients at their homes. This, however, has now been discontinued by Government Medical College (GMC) Srinagar.
During the 2016 protests after the Hizb commander Burhan Wani’s killing, GMC Srinagar had declared a medical emergency in all its hospitals and had constituted a Crisis Intervention Mental Health Team to prevent any serious mental illness following a huge influx of firing and pellet victims.
That team is no longer in existence due to a shortage of doctors and counsellors at the Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology Departments.
“We couldn’t continue with the process as there is a huge shortage of staff. Community-based intervention is nearly impossible under such circumstances,” said an official.
Dr Sadaqat Rahman, who is a clinical psychologist at GMC Srinagar, told Kashmir Reader that nearly 500 firing survivors were enrolled for counselling at the psychological clinics of the college.
“Most survivors enrolled in the clinical psychological department for counselling are pellet victims who have been showing serious symptoms of mental disorder from day one. Some have recovered fast after counselling and medicines. However, there is a good number of youth who have developed symptoms of mental disorders including PTSD. We need to identify them and put them on a regular follow-up programme, which is not happening at this time,” she said.
Although psychiatrists had started early crisis intervention at SMHS Hospital, they are highly apprehensive that manifestations may worsen due to the absence of proper treatment.
Well-known psychiatrist Dr Arshad Hussain told Kashmir Reader that among some victims their physical disabilities from bullet and pellet injuries were manifesting into psycho-social disorders.
“There is always a greater possibility of things getting worse when victims get discharged from hospital and remain confined or bedridden,” Dr Hussain said.
“Community-based support is important because if the injured won’t get societal support, their usual distress and anxiety may turn into serious psychiatric illnesses like PTSD,” he said.
“We need to find adaptive processes and limits for the victims to help them live a normal life,” the psychiatrist said.
According to doctors, an expert team has identified over 100 pellet victims in two associated GMC Srinagar hospitals for close monitoring and psychiatric intervention, including medication.
“Most of them were put on psychiatric intervention at Bone and Joint Hospital and SMHS Hospital. However, most skip follow-up treatment in absence of community-based intervention,” the doctors said.
“So far, only 10 to 15 pellet victims come for regular counselling and rehabilitation treatment,” said a counsellor.
“Most of them needed rigorous psychological and medicinal therapies to contain their PTSD after the physical injuries and trauma. We have started treatment and hope for better results,” he said.
The psychologists cautioned of long-term manifestation in trauma victims of various psychiatric illnesses like PTSD and psychosis. As these would need long-term treatment, they suggest changing the PTSD-related therapeutic focus into exploring chances for positive psychological change following adversity, known also as post-traumatic growth.
“There would be a sudden surge in the number of mental patients after some months. During such tough times, people suffering from trauma, depression and other psychological disorders may swell in numbers in hospital and private clinics. So we have to keep well-equipped to deal with such patients,” they said.