Healing Kashmir

Healing Kashmir
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BY JEELANI SAIMA

How to deal with these mental and psychological wounds? How to heal the intense, agonizing damage that they cause?
The decadal long years of conflict have left scars on the people of Kashmir. These are not just scars some carry from bullet wounds and tear gas shells but the invisible scars of dealing with fear, insecurity and often unbearable loss. Kashmir, a region known for its mesmerizing natural beauty, lush green meadows and snow-clad mountains is now an unstable, militarized zone. The region has been politically unstable for decades.
The explosion of violence in the Kashmir Valley beginning from the late 80s and early 90s has left an ugly scar on the minds of the local population. With more than 70% of adults having experienced or witnessed the sudden or violent death of someone they knew, it is no wonder that 45% or 18 lakh of the adult population in the Valley’s ten districts show symptoms of significant mental distress.
In the midst of these turbulent times, who has been able to reflect on the emotional scars that the Kashmiri’s have suffered ? These wounds may be invisible, but they are no less lethal. The survey conducted by MSF in Kashmir found that one out of every two adults was mentally disturbed due to the violent conflict of more than two decades. Nearly 1.8 million adults, equalling 45 per cent of the Valley’s adult population, show significant symptoms of mental distress.
The MSF report stated that Approximately 1.6 million adults (41 percent) in the Valley were found to be living with significant symptoms of depression. A majority of people had experienced or witnessed conflict-related trauma. The MSF survey had found “high levels of co- morbidity of symptoms of depression, anxiety and PTSD” among adults living in the Valley.
Everybody in Kashmir has suffered this pain.
The MSF survey found that on an average, an adult living in Kashmir Valley has ‘witnessed
or experienced 7.7 traumatic events during his/her lifetime. A majority of people have experienced or witnessed natural disasters and conflict-related trauma (94 percent and 93 percent respectively). More than 70 percent of adults have experienced or witnessed the sudden or violent death of someone they knew,” the report stated.
In the current circumstances, it is important to understand the mental trauma of a Kashmiri. Due to the ongoing unrest many Kashmiri’s have not been able to get the medicines they require for their daily use for diabetes, gastric problems and other ailments.
The wide-ranging MSF survey had found that the most-reported problems faced by Kashmiri’s were financial challenges, poor health and unemployment. It had advocated a comprehensive and integrated decentralized prevention, care and treatment program for the Valley. For youth in Kashmir, mental health declines as conflict simmers’, a news-report had stated on its coverage of the MSF report.
The extant conditions will aggravate depression, anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms for the people residing in Kashmir. The major challenge in handling these issues is lack of adequate mental health services. The Valley faces a critical need to augment its mental health services. How to offer culturally appropriate, effective and acceptable mental health interventions is the vital question for all service providers, experts and policy makers. The Valley will need mass counselling camps to enable people to deal with their deep trauma and misery. A psychosocial support system needs to be created so that the inner frustrations and grievances of people are dealt with by experts.
—The author can be reached at: saimahabeeb786@gmail.com