Lockdown after lockdown in Kashmir aggravates mental health of many
Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir: “Death must be more peaceful than living in Kashmir under [continuous] lockdowns,” Mohammad Zain, 29, a resident of Srinagar. After the abrogation of Article 370 and the curfew imposed on August 5, 2019, he lost his job at a local software firm as the government placed curbs on communication channels, and has been dealing with depression. He feels helpless as he is unemployed and unable to help his sick parents and young sisters.
Like Zain, many other people in Kashmir have developed mental illnesses brought on by a series of lockdowns and communication blackouts. The recent lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19 exacerbated the mental health crisis in the newly formed Union Territory.
Dr Yasir Rather, associate professor, Department of Psychiatry, Government Medical College (GMC), Srinagar, stated that the number of patients has risen since the lockdown imposed in August 2019. Owing to the lockdown to stop the coronavirus, the fears and mental health issues have increased in the Valley, he commented.
He added that they receive about 40-50 calls every day from people struggling to deal with mental health issues, but are unable to provide the instant diagnostic treatment in addition to counselling and prescribing necessary medicine in the absence of high-speed internet.
Unemployed and broke
Without a means of livelihood, several young people have lost hope. Shops, hotels, restaurants and public transport have come to a standstill.
According to the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI), Kashmir has witnessed a loss of about five lakh jobs in lockdowns since August 2019. The report highlighted that the internet shutdown and low-speed internet added to the job losses owing to disruption in online shopping and transactions.
Zubair Ahmad, a garment wholesaler, shared that he has accrued huge amounts of debt, and feels helpless at the current situation. He had to sell his inherited land, wife’s jewellery and take a loan from the bank. He hasn’t been able to earn since August 2019. He said he is in mental turmoil.
“I am in deep depression and psychological restlessness. I have become a moving corpse,” he lamented.
Dr Junaid Nabi, a consultant at the Department of Psychiatry, GMC, Srinagar, told 101Reporters that there is a spike in the number of patients with mental health issues owing to financial troubles or job losses. He said unemployment and traders losses have led to financial issues in families and the frustration has caused an increase in the instances of domestic violence. It has given rise to sadness, decreased interest in work, insomnia, palpitation and restlessness, he added.
Living in a conflict zone
The prolonged armed conflict, series of lockdowns and communication blackouts in Kashmir have rendered the region into a land of lockdowns and silent deaths. According to the KCCI, Kashmir observed 3,000 days of lockdown in three decades since the 1990s.
According to a report by the Doctors Without Borders, an international medical NGO, about 18 lakh Kashmiris have some form of mental disorder. The figure was extrapolated after surveying 5,600 households in 2015. Nine of 10 reported having experienced conflict-related traumas.
The frequent cross-border ceasefire violations have traumatised a vast population living in frontiers areas. Mir Anayat, a student and resident of Tangdar area of the Keran sector, Kupwara district, an area that is prone to cross-border shelling, stated that they have to find safe places to hide regularly. “We shift to safer places during shelling and return to homes when shelling stops. This is our life, running and hiding. We always live under fear for life.”
Children are among the most affected by the series of lockdowns. Most of them are clueless as to why they are sitting at homes and not going to school. They have much to express but little they could due to restrictions, both psychological and physical.
Sardar Rameez Sudhan, an educator from Baramulla, with his friend Wasim Rashid Kakroo, has started ‘Art of Giving initiative’ to reach out to these children who are held up in their homes with no avenues of entertainment, fun learning and social bonding. They have started a series of programmes lined up for children for their socio-psychological well-being. Sudhan mentioned that during these tough times, children are getting ignored and because of that they are becoming vulnerable to physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
Mental health experts say the lockdowns have had a major social and psychological impact on the whole population. Dr Rather pointed out that in rural areas, social determinants like education, means of livelihood or family structure play a role and social barriers like caste, class or gender can restrict access to mental health. He suggested that volunteers should be deputed to provide counselling and support to people in-home or centre-based quarantine to deal with the lockdown.