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More People Seeking Treatment for Mental Illness in Strife-torn Kashmir

The prolonged insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir is having a severe impact on the mental health of the people, especially women and children.//

More and more women are knocking on the doors of mental health professionals in the strife-torn state. Over 50 percent of some 60,000 people who have sought help for mental disorders in the past decade have been women.

Not only are the numbers growing, the list of disorders is also widening. Apart from psychosomatic disorders such as ulcers, the traumatised women are seeking help for schizophrenic tendencies like emptiness and midnight knock syndromes.

Schizophrenia is a mental disease marked by disconnection between thoughts, feelings, and actions frequented with delusions and retreat from social life.

Arshad Hussain of the Psychiatry Disease Hospital, Srinagar, told IANS here: "Women, the largest survivor group in Jammu and Kashmir, have shown immense resilience. But continuing violence is taking a toll on them.

"Women who are biologically predisposed to depression and anxiety are now displaying schizophrenic tendencies," added Hussain, who attended a conference here on the role of women in Jammu and Kashmir.

"Of the total number of patients we see every day, over 50 percent are women. Cases of women suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorders are also on the rise."

The two-day meet was organised by WISCOMP -Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace -, an initiative of the Foundation for Universal Responsibility of the Dalai Lama.

Rehana Kausar, another delegate at the convention, said: "There is a marked increase in cases of abortion, incest, infidelity, crumbling marriages and early menopause."

On the mental health infrastructure in the state, Kausar said: "There are only 13 psychiatrists, two-three clinical psychiatrists, 100-150 counsellors and 400-500 lay counsellors."

Mil itancy that broke out in the Himalayan state in 1989 has claimed over 45,000 lives so far. The violence shows no signs of ending. Heavily armed security forces are a common sight on the streets of the Kashmir Valley, and arrests and bomb explosions are routine.

All this has created a climate of fear and anxiety. If a family member does not return home on time, people often fear the worst and begin making frantic inquiries. Women are also in the forefront of a campaign to know the fate of the thousands listed in the state as "disappeared".

Said Hameeda Nayeem, who teaches English in Kashmir University and a founder member of the Women Waging Peace, an initiative of Harvard University's Kennedy School: "Eighty percent of those who seek help from mental health professionals are women.

"In Srinagar there is only one psychiatrist one can go to, Mushtaq Marghoob. And I usually see a long queue outside his clinic," Nayeem said.

Asked if women from all strata of society are seeking help, she said: "A few of my colleagues in the university have sought help. I don't think there is any stigma attached to being seen with mental health professionals any more."

(Source: IANS)
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