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A disturbing trend

It is quite disturbing to note that three attempts to death by suicide were reported from the valley on Thursday. All the three, two of them girls, are reported young. They are reported to have taken poisonous substances to end their lives. But their attempts failed due to timely medical intervention. Over the past few years the tendency towards suicides has menacingly increased in Kashmir. Since January this year, at least, 10 persons are reported to have died by committing suicide in various parts of the valley. Though the immediate cause of suicides, in majority of cases, is said to be domestic problems but psychiatrists say that the long-drawn armed conflict has affected a large section of the population negatively that prompts them to take extreme steps even on slightest provocation. They say that Kashmir has become the den of psychiatric patients, and if steps are not taken to address this, it would have serious repercussions on the future generations. The seriousness of the situation can be gauged from the fact that the solitary government-run hospital for psychiatric diseases in Srinagar is recording the arrival of dozens of fresh cases of patients every day. Even as experts would have us believe it was a “global phenomenon,” the prevailing conditions and unending political uncertainty in the valley have combined to take a heavy toll on the mental health of its people. At present, around 150 patients suffering from various psychological ailments are admitted in the hospital every day, and their count is increasing with each day. Lately, a new category of patients are reporting at the hospital whose psychological disorders are traced to increasing competition and industrial activity. “A few years back, psychological disorder was attributed only to present conflict but, at present, there are multiple reasons behind the increasing numbers of psychological problems. Majority of them are related to environmental stress and over-burden of work,” doctors would tell us. Such patients, they assert, need extra care and prolonged treatment. Incidentally, women constitute the vast majority of patients suffering from psychological disorders. The valley has been going through a virtual hell for around three decades now with thousands of women losing their husbands, sons and other dear ones in the on-going turmoil. While most such affected women, mostly widows, are living in abject misery and penury, thousands of women have been traumatized following the enforced disappearance of their husbands after being picked up randomly by police or security forces. Described as “half widows” their plight is far more poignant as they assemble in or around the city centre at Srinagar every month to demand the whereabouts of their missing husbands from the callous government. Lately, there has also been a sharply upward trend in suicides, with teenagers or youth being the victims in most cases. The alarming tendency is traced to several factors, including the increasing pressure of studies. Rampant unemployment among the educated youth has led to a highly explosive situation marked by growing frustration. Thousands of the desperate youth are believed to have become drug addicts as a result. Going by reports, most people in the valley and the hill regions of Jammu suffer from psychological disorders, generally complaining of anxiety, depression, hysteria or post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). It is an open secret that everyone is a victim of the conflict in one or other way.
Sadly, the state government, which is never tired of churning out lofty promises of moons and stars to the people, is brazenly unconcerned about this disturbing situation. In spite of claiming an investment of hundreds of crores of rupees on the improvement of healthcare infrastructure it has failed to provide for an effective and matching response to the mental health problems facing more than 90 per cent of the state population. With the number of patients swelling by the day, the valley’s only Psychiatric Diseases hospital in downtown Srinagar, having outlived its age, is pathetically ill-equipped to cater to their needs. Incidentally, the absence of civil society players in the key mental health area has aptly aggravated the grim scenario, particularly in the valley. Indeed some reputed non-governmental organizations have been carrying out some activity, albeit on a modest scale, to create a cadre of dedicated para-counselors or to supplement government activities in the field of child guidance and counseling. However, given the magnitude of the problem, these feeble efforts can hardly make any discernible impact on the situation. It is time the government got its priorities right and initiated comprehensive measures for addressing the grave problem in the right earnest.