Over 11 percent of Kashmir’s population suffers from mental health disorders, almost double than the all-India average, a study has revealed, adding that traumatic events are the main cause of mental health issues in Kashmir.
The study titled “community based study of mental health illnesses in Kashmir”, has brought to fore the huge burden of mental health disorders in Kashmir where 11.3 percent people were found to be “currently experiencing mental health issues”. The study is the first to research “point prevalence” of mental health disorders with researchers suspecting that the percentage and number of people having suffered mental health illness at any point in their lives must be “much higher”. It was undertaken by the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS), Kashmir, and was commissioned by Action Aid Association with the support of Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO). It was released today at the Government Medical College (Srinagar) here at the event to mark World Health Day (April 07), themed “Depression - Let's talk”.
The researchers have found that experiencing traumatic events rooted in conflict was a huge contributor and 24.3 percent people who had gone through such experiences developed mental health issues. In comparison, among people who had never been through conflict related traumatic events, only 9.4 percent had mental health issues.
From the comparisons, researchers have concluded that conflict was the reason behind the higher prevalence of mental health issues in Kashmir. The “traumatic events in families” included a member of “family killed/disappeared/detained/tortured/disabled due to conflict related reasons”.
“In a way, mental illness perpetuates a cycle of trauma,” the report states, warning that the exposure to trauma and mental illness led to “intergenerational trauma through a cycle of increased stress in families, declining socio-economic conditions, health care burden, anger, breakdown of families, and inability to take care of children, marital issues and in worst case scenarios. It also leads to social isolation”.
Trauma has also been associated with decrease in economic productivity of people suffering from illness and their caretakers. While, a general presumption would be that given the long history of conflict in Kashmir, treatment seeking for mental health illnesses would be common, but the study has revealed the wide gap that prevails. “Although the prevalence of 11.3 % mental health disorders in the population represents an abnormally serious situation, what was also surprising was that the treatment gap was very high. Only 12.6% of the people with mental illness sought help from health services and only 6.4% of those who had mental illness had consulted a psychiatrist” reveals the study principally led Dr Arshad Hussain, at IMHANS Kashmir . The researchers have suspected stigmatization of mental health issues coupled with low access to and awareness about treatment facilities to be responsible for this gap.
Depressive disorders were found to be the commonest mental health disorders with as many as 8.4 percent of those studied afflicted, as per the study. “This constituted 6.9 percent having major depressive disorder. This was followed by Anxiety Disorders, affecting 5.1 percent population. Those affected have symptoms of anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder and panic disorder,” reads the study.
The researchers have underlined the dire need of J&K government to strategically formulate a “comprehensive community mental health program comprising promotive, preventive and curative dimensions of treatment to address mental health issues of people in the immediate and long term in ways”.
The research recommends various steps that could help alleviate the burden of mental health illnesses in Kashmir. These include promoting mental health well being, taking mental health initiatives into the community, improving availability of psychiatrists and medicines, integrating mental health with education and linking other initiatives with mental health among others. As per World Health Organization, depression was the leading cause of ill health and disability in world.