High suicide rate in Kashmir valley alarming

High suicide rate in Kashmir valley alarming

Azhar Shaheen

Kashmir has witnessed much violence and conflict, especially over the past two-and-a-half decades. Tens of thousands of people have lost their lives due to the conflict; thousands more have simply disappeared, and many others have faced torture and injury. People have lost their jobs and livelihoods, and exposure to violence remains high in the Valley — most have seen cross-fires, raids, sexual assault, forced labour, arrests, torture, maltreatment, disappearances, killings.

Sometimes drug abuse, like anti-depressants, can also lead to death. In such cases, one cannot be sure whether the death was accidental or intentional.

It is widely recognised in Kashmir that the prevalence of mental health issues has significantly increased since the conflict began. This is based on random observations, OPD records and very limited research conducted on some of the very vulnerable groups and/or in healthcare institutions.

Findings reflect that the majority of the victims include youth and school going boys and girls.

One of the widely quoted data is based on OPD records of the number of people who were undergoing treatment at the State Psychiatric Disease Hospital, Srinagar, in 1985 (taken as baseline) and the number of patients now. These records show that the number, which was 775 in 1985 (at the SPDH, then the lone hospital in Kashmir where psychiatric services were unavailable), increased to 1,30,000 in 2015 (in two state hospitals including the State SMHS Hospital and State Psychiatric Hospital in Srinagar, both affiliated with GMC Srinagar)

In the State Psychiatric Hospital alone, 75,000 patients were treated at the OPD in 2015. This certainly indicates a steep increase in numbers of patients who sought psychiatric services. Of course, this doesn’t take into account factors such as affordability of treatment being a major issue, the high level of stigma around mental illness, and general awareness about mental health awareness being low. Therefore, several instances of mental illness (in the earlier years) would have gone unreported.

On the other hand, in 2015, not only at the two state hospitals (SMHS Hospital and State Psychiatric Hospital in Srinagar), psychiatric services are also available in all major district hospitals, and most of these psychiatrists also provide services at their private clinics. Those who visit private clinics (and this is a significant number) go unreported. Because of these reasons, the comparison of OPD records between 1985 and 2015 has major loopholes.

The doctors said that a person commits suicide when he or she reaches the extreme condition of hopelessness. This situation is generally created when a society hankers after materialistic needs.

However, the increase in mental illness in the Valley remains a fact, which is also corroborated with research findings from other, smaller studies. As conflict has been prevalent throughout Kashmir, affecting all districts, any estimate of mental illness warrants a community-based prevalence study.

The author is the student of Mass Communication and Journalism at Maulana Azad National Urdu University Hyderabad and can be reached at [email protected]

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