Leaving them untreated means pushing one to hell
WHATS UP BY SAJAD BAZAZ
Kashmir is a place where humans suffer on all counts. When media covers Kashmir, it relentlessly focuses on nature of the conflict and most of the times discuss the possibility of nuclear war between India and Pakistan. Even as human sufferings have found attention of media, non-governmental organisations, or human right organisations, their focus has revolved most of the time around killings, physical injuries, destruction of properties and missing people. But hardly have we found a serious focus on the alarming proportion of mental health scenario which is no less than an epidemic in Kashmir. For over two decades now, mental disorders here have caused massive disruption in the lives of common Kashmiris not only substantially but in a sustained manner.
One of the acquaintances in my neighbourhood owns a passenger mini bus, which is hypothecated to the bank. Some three years back, he had raised a loan little over Rs. 5 lakhs from the bank for the purchase of the mini bus to earn livelihood for his family consisting of his old aged parents, two sisters and two brothers. It was the most memorable moment of his life when he first time plied the bus and that too full of passengers. His initial earning made him believe that all the financial problems at his domestic front were going to be a thing of the past. But his ‘belief’ was short lived. Almost three months of shut down during Amarnath land row in 2008, similar kind of situation in 2009 following Shopian episode and this year’s continuous shut downs for over four months now have dashed his dream of ‘happy home’.
Today, the mini bus is a huge liability for him. He has been inconsistent in repaying the monthly installments of his vehicle loan. Reason is simple. He cannot ply his vehicle during the hartals and curfews. Even during normal days his income witnessed drastic fall, as the maintenance charges of his bus had gone up considerably. On so many occasions, his bus was damaged in stone pelting incidents.
During one of the recent stone pelting sessions in his locality, his vehicle suffered considerable damage as window glasses and major headlights of his mini bus were broken and the very sight of his vehicle today tells his pathetic story. His bank loan is swelling due to interest charged on the loan. He has nothing substantial in hand to feed his family properly and the most terrible part of his routine life is that he has to ensure regular chemotherapy of his ailing brother suffering from cancer. For this he needs minimum Rs.12000 per month. For him medicines are more important for the survival of his brother rather than the food.
Precisely, he is clueless today and it has considerably affected his mental health. He is sacred to ply his bus whenever there is relaxation in hartal or curfew, as he has lost his ability to perform even routine tasks at his home. Today for his extreme mood swings and behavioural problems, his family wants to take him to a psychiatrist but they don’t have sufficient money for his treatment.
These kinds of situations dot every locality, almost available in abundance in Kashmir. But stand neglected. This has lead to serious economic depression, which has resulted in inadequate treatment or no treatment. Ultimately, the people with mental illness have been caught in a vicious circle, leading to social drift hampering employment, relationships and many other severe social problems. If study of local psychiatrists is to be believed annualised work loss due to major mental disorders is two months and the problem is of high magnitude in the lower socio-economic class.
Families in which one member is suffering from a mental disorder make a number of adjustments and compromises that prevent other members of the family from achieving their full potential in work and social relationships. These are the human aspects of the burden of mental disorders, which are difficult to assess and quantify; they are nevertheless important. Families often have to set aside a major part of their time to look after the mentally ill relative, and suffer economic and social deprivation because he or she is not fully productive.
Estimates claim that Kashmir has the highest psychological distress in the world and have attributed it directly to the conflict situation. Statistics show that from 350 patients in 1989, the lone psychiatric hospital on an average receives over one lakh patients in a year sought treatment for their mental illness. However, there is a huge number of patients, especially in far-flung areas who have either no means or are reluctant to consult a psychiatrist.
A survey has revealed that more than 90 percent of employees agree that their mental health and personal problems spill over into their professional lives, and have a direct impact on their job performance. Mental health conditions are actually the second leading cause of absenteeism. Three out of four employees who seek care for workplace issues or mental health problems see substantial improvement in work performance after treatment.
Precisely, the economic impact of mental disorders in Kashmir has been wide ranging, long lasting and huge. These disorders impose a range of costs on individuals, families and Kashmiri societies as a whole. Notably, mental disorders among children, which is rampant due to the conflict volatility is having a devastating impact on their education and personality development.
Depression among them is correlated with their poor school grades. This kind of situation among them if not tackled and left untreated will lead them to experience higher rates of unemployment, poorer relationships, and greater contact with the criminal justice system in adult life.
Today Kashmir is the ‘most dangerous place in the world’ not for being a ‘possible’ nuclear flash point, but because being a place where there is the rapid and pandemic deterioration of mental health which has a huge bearing on the economic welfare of the whole society. So combating mental illness is of prime importance and needs a collective effort. It affects all of us even if we are not associated with a person with mental illness. We have to understand this fact that mental illness is not the fault of the individual who suffers.
Not only families of the affected persons but government and the society have to shoulder the responsibility fighting out this epidemic. However, the government has to play a major role. While taking funding decisions of various projects, the government should take into account proper funding for mental health treatment. This may actually be an investment as focus on mental health services can save money and can help reduce crime. Otherwise, untreated mental disorder costs the entire society.
(The views are of the author and not that of the institution he works for. Feedback at email@example.com)
Lastupdate on : Sat, 23 Oct 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 23 Oct 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 24 Oct 2010 00:00:00 IST
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