Views from Srinagar
ACCORDING to the latest estimates of the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 300 million people are living with depression. The number of people with depression has witnessed more than 18 percent increase in 10 years from 2005 to 2015. The WHO alert is quite relevant in the context of Kashmir given the status of mental health in the valley. Not long ago, a survey conducted by international humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) found that around 1.8 million people or nearly 45 percent of Kashmir’s adult population suffers from some degree of mental distress due to exposure to traumatic events.
As per the survey conducted in collaboration with Department of Psychology, Kashmir University, and Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience (IMHANS) 10 percent (4,15,000) of these people meet the diagnostic criteria for severe depression. It further revealed that 41 percent of people living in Kashmir exhibit symptoms of depression; 26 percent symptoms of anxiety and 19 percent symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As per the survey, on an average, an adult living in the valley has witnessed or experienced 7.7 traumatic events during his/her lifetime. Besides, the number of people living in Kashmir who have experienced and/or witnessed trauma either due to natural disasters or due to conflict stood at 94 percent and 93 percent, respectively. Further, over 70 percent adults have experienced or witnessed the sudden or violent death of someone they knew.
As the WHO report states, depression is an important risk factor for suicide, which claims hundreds of thousands of lives each year. Lack of support for people with mental disorders, coupled with a fear of stigma, prevent many from accessing the treatment they need to live healthy, productive lives. This prompted WHO to carry out its campaign, ‘Depression: Let’s Talk’, with the aim of encouraging more people with depression to get help.
Over two decades of bloody conflict has taken a heavy toll on the lives of Kashmiris. As if it was not enough, issues like unemployment have made happiness look even more elusive in the valley.
As the discontentment looms large, it is usually attributed to factors like adverse political situation and inept administration. However, besides these external factors, there are many internal psychological constraints, which come in the way of our happiness.
Over the years, mutual distrust in interpersonal relations has become more common as compared to the past. People seem to be more suspicious, evasive and distrustful of others in the community. Materialism has also made serious inroads in our society. According to some researches, people who place a high value on wealth, status, and stuff are more depressed and anxious and less sociable than those who do not.
In Kashmir, now-a-days, if a person is going for some renovation work on his house or buys a new car, it’s not long before his neighbours get anxious and follow suit even if there is no apparent reason or need to feel or do so.
Sometimes people think and behave as if all the good things in this life are available in limited quantities and that one could improve one’s position only at somebody else’s expense. We end up putting ourselves under undue pressure just because our neighbour, co-worker or for that matter even our relatives seem to be doing better than us in terms of material possessions or other matters.
We vent much of our negative energy blaming government for our problems. It may not be unique to Kashmir, but we seem to have more conflicting and ambivalent attitude towards the government than perhaps anywhere else. On the one hand, we are heavily dependent on the government for almost everything, from subsidy to jobs. On the flip side, however, we are also quite hostile towards it. There is a general distrust regarding the politicians and government functionaries. This ambivalent attitude also reflects our state of alienation and hence unhappiness.
‘God helps those who help themselves’ is a clichéd idiom we are all familiar with, but how many times we find people blaming their luck. The truth is that fatalism has become ingrained in us. There is nothing wrong in believing that our well-being is controlled by fate. But if we use it as an excuse and stop striving for a better life, we cannot expect our dull and difficult lives to change. Infact, this approach has had a dysfunctional consequence on the overall social change in Kashmir. Resigning to the fate, we fail to explore opportunities of better life.
We also seem to lack the ability to postpone satisfaction of immediate needs in anticipation of better future rewards. We want it here and now. This ‘lack of deferred gratifications’ deprives us of many long-term benefits.Back to the WHO figures on depression, it should serve as a wake-up call. There is a dire need to address the issues of mental health with the urgency that it deserves. WHO has called for increased investment to address the problem. In Kashmir there is little support available for people with mental health disorders. The government should allocate more share of the health budget to mental health.
[Writer is Srinagar based columnist/journalist].