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Analysts Find Kashmir Conflict Takes Toll on Mental Health

Shahnawaz Khan

The two-decade old conflict in Indian-administered Kashmir has taken a toll on the mental health of the region's people, with many complaining of post-traumatic stress disorders. Shahnawaz Khan in Srinagar has this VOA report.

Tahira Begum is one of hundreds of Kashmir's so-called 'half widows,' a term used to describe women whose husbands have disappeared, after being picked up by state security agencies.

Begum's husband has been missing since 2002.

She sews clothes to feed her three children. Like many caught in Kashmir's conflict, Begun depends on pills to battle depression and related disorders.

"I cannot see too much of joy or sorrow. I just faint. Like at marriage ceremonies or at mourning. I was at a marriage ceremony last week, and as the women were singing, my teeth chattered and I fainted," she said.

Indian-controlled Kashmir has suffered an armed rebellion by Muslim militants since 1989. In the years since, hospitals say they have seen rising numbers of patients needing psychiatric help.

Arshad Hussain is a psychiatrist at the only psychiatric hospital in Srinagar, the summer capital of the region.

"Prior to '90, this hospital used to cater around 1,800 to 2,000 patients per year. And, last year, this hospital saw around 60,000 patients," said Hussain.

Hussain says that most of the increase, though not all, is related to the conflict.

Some patients, like Tahira Begum, suffer depression. But there are other problems.

"We have a disease called post traumatic stress disorder, which was absolutely not present prior to the conflict. We have [a] rise in substance abuse, a lot of it can be attributed to conflict. We have many cases of depression," said Begum.

Post-traumatic stress often is linked to incidents in which a person suffers injury or attack, experiences great fear, or witnesses extreme violence.

Hussain explains what they suffer.

"They start re-experiencing this event in the dreams, day-to-day life," said Hussain. "There are sometimes vivid images, which move in front of them. And then, the second complex thing that happens to them is avoidance. Then they are always in a state of hyper-arousal."

On the border between India and Pakistan, Kashmir is claimed by both countries, with control divided between the two. Nearly 70,000 people have died in the insurgency, and around 8,000 have disappeared, many taken in custody by state security agencies.

Both Indian troops and militants have been accused of human rights abuses in the region.

In the past few years, India and Pakistan have improved relations, after nearly going to war in 2002. Still, they have made little progress in resolving their dispute over Kashmir, which has been the cause of two of the three wars the two countries have fought.

While the governments negotiate, doctors such as Hussain say, mental health problems will continue to rise among those trapped in the conflict.

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