Mental health crisis!

While growing up, we experience many things, learn lessons, start building beliefs and gradually a conviction of stability and certainty develops. Many thought patterns stabilise in our growing brains. As researches point out, ‘developmental years have a huge impact on mental health’. The brain’s mechanism to learn by experiences and imitation puts an individual in the domain where environmental factors play a crucial role in shaping personality, thoughts, beliefs and attitudes.

When we talk about Kashmir, developmental years of children & mental health, we see uncertainty, we hear young ones saying that it’s a strike today, we can’t go to school. We can’t buy toys because shops are closed, we can’t watch our favourite cartoons on YouTube because internet is not working, we can’t speak to our loved ones because phones are not working. Every statement reflects a sign of hopelessness, which leads them to limit their desires.

Growing in this circumscribed atmosphere, leads to many disruptive behaviours in young ones. They start acquiring traits which can leads to maladaptive behaviours.

Mental health issues are aggravating in Kashmir, some days drug abuse serves the headlines, some days depression and anxiety and some days some other mental health issues.

As a mental health professional when I try to view the mental status of Kashmiris, I notice sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, lack of goals and motivation, loss of interest, low mood, disturbed sleep- while picturing these symptoms together a name- a title- ‘depression’ pops in.

When I meet adolescents, they express how uncertain they feel about future, how nervous they are, how worried they feel about everything around and that disturbs them, they feel restless and anxious- again a term pops in ‘anxiety disorders.

Nowadays youth crave to run away from reality, to get some sort of elation, to feel the adrenaline rush, to get away timely with the negatives of their lives – these reasons make me think, can low lying conflict zone be one of the reasons why youth is proceeding to drug abuse?

Often people complaint of somatic pains, for which they look out for painkillers, are these real somatic complaints or psychologically converted pain which is caused by unexpressed stress. Again, it leads me to think, what should we blame, what should we deny and what should we accept. We keep on repressing our desires, problems, helpless situations, traumas, uncertainties, which creates the psychological pain.

When I observe that self-harm and mood dysregulation has become very common in youth, when I listen to their versions for their behaviour, I do believe somewhere that may be things would have been better if Kashmir would have been a safe space. I could ask a girl to go out in the morning and feel the early breeze which refreshes the soul, but can I? Will the current circumstances allow me to suggest her that, let her take a breather? The circumstances limit my options and hinder the therapeutic process.

A learned pattern of confirming safety isn’t available with us, an underlying fear exists when women travel for work, there are no sources of assurance. We are living with the fear of uncertainty and with the attitude  that something can happen anytime.

The whole psyche is being affected, the prevailing situations are like small amounts of shocks and jerks for our psyche. Mental health is suffering and is degrading day by day.

What adds up to the plight is the stigma associated with mental health. An institute which works for the betterment of mental health is known as’pagal khana’ and people shy away when talking about it.

We belittle the concepts of mental health, ‘tu pagal hai kya?’ is a common dialogue which people exchange when they want to comment on anyone’s weird behaviour, or out of box thoughts. We use the word ‘depressed’ so often as if we just consider it as a moment of emotion, whereas depression is not just an emotion.

While belittling it, we don’t consider the consequences, but it puts those who experience these problems in jeopardy, they are bound to think, ‘are our problems worth seeking help?’

The low-lying conflict zone is an extraneous variable which does exist and is beyond the control of a common man but an orientation towards mental health can bring a change and bring in light towards the brighter perspective of mental health.

It’s worth understanding how Mental health is affected. An acceptance towards mental health issues surely should be the first step. If someone is witnessing any such issue, it should be treated as equally as we treat any other medical disease.

Drug abuse, which is the most threatening problem we are witnessing in youth nowadays, should be treated as a disorder and not as a label. It doesn’t make him a bad human, it doesn’t change the good side which we would have seen before and surely its not meant to bring shame on the family. It’s a disorder and should be treated like one. Acceptance in drug abuse is the most controversial issue, it does shatter the whole family and also involves a lot of criticism, blaming, shaming, restrictions for the victim of drug abuse. An attitude change for the same is important, all the negative emotions should be replaced with a positive sense for well-being. A sense of hope should be created in the victim. It needs to be treated as a chapter and not as the whole book. Family support plays a pivotal role in helping the victim recover from the drug abuse. We often tag these victims as ‘druggies’, ‘addicts’ which psychologically belittles them and shames them.  The motto should be changing the label from a druggie to a victim!

Mental health should be discussed freely in families, in peer groups, in close knit units. The more we talk about it, the more we will be able to accept it. Explaining how situations affect our mental health can decrease the intensity of aftermath of stressors. It creates a kind of pre- prepared mindset.

Seeking professional help instead of delaying it when we feel that we are witnessing some changes in our behaviour.

Mental health is equally as important as physical health. Growing and living in this unprecedented state of conflict demands us to take healthy measures towards mental health and these mentioned measures are just a set of attitudes which needs to be changed. A small change in attitude can create a ripple effect, and it’s high time to create ripples!

Zoya Mir is pursuing M.Phil. Clinical Psychology at Institute of Mental Health and NeuroSciences, Kashmir ([email protected])