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Placing our priorities right

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Health appears to be no priority in Kashmir. Last week, the world health day (April 7) passed off as a non-event in Kashmir. The matter of the fact is that Kashmir is the unhealthiest place to live in, not for the environmental pollution but for the turbulence and disorder it has been going through for the three decades. Doctors say that not a single person in the valley can claim to be fully healthy. Every person including doctors is suffering from one or the other disease. The deaths and injuries which have become a routine affair have a devastating impact on the peoples’ psyche and a number of psychological diseases have engulfed common people. According to the Global Burden of Disease Study, mental health/suicide is the top reason for human deaths. And Kashmir being no exception. Official figures reveal that 272 cases of suicide were reported in 2016, which increased to 275 in 2017. About 263 people committed suicide in 2013. The real number is believed to be far higher, as a lot of suicide attempts are said to remain unreported due to the associated social stigma. Officials at SMHS hospital say that they receive 2-3 cases of suicide every day. Of late, suicides have become the major killer in Kashmir, only second to militancy. 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. 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. 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. It is time the government got its priorities right and initiated comprehensive measures for addressing the grave problem in the right earnest.