As the demand for antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicines increases, fewer people are being able to access appropriate healthcare.
She sat in a corner, beside the door of the doctor’s office in Baramulla, hidden by papers and medicine boxes on the compounder’s table. “I feel frustrated thinking about the future, I feel there is no future for us,” 24-year-old Zahra, told IndiaSpend. Zahra is a law graduate, who is now preparing for the state civil services judicial examination. A patient of depression, she had not required medicines for three years until the removal of Article 370 marked a return of anxiety. “I can’t focus on my studies anymore,” she said.
Zahra was one of 15 patients waiting to see neurophysicist Akash Yusuf Khan at his clinic in Baramulla, 55 km from Srinagar. Housed in a poorly maintained municipal complex, the clinic is open only on Sundays; on other days, he consults at the district hospital.
Doctors predicted a rise in the number of cases presenting with stress and anxiety, as a consequence of the removal of Article 370 and the accompanying communications blockade that has prevented many from talking to their families or stepping out of home for fear they will be unable to contact their families when out.
The blockade has also resulted in fewer people accessing mental health care in August 2019. Médecins Sans Frontières – MSF, or Doctors Without Borders – has shut down mental health services in four districts of Kashmir valley as they are unable to reach their staff.
As a conflict-torn region, Kashmir has historically reported a widespread prevalence of mental health issues. Nearly 1.8 million adults in Kashmir Valley – 45% of the population – showed symptoms of mental distress, a 2015 survey by the humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières said. The survey found that 41% of the population showed signs of depression, 26% showed signs of anxiety and 19% showed probable symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Currently, people are unable to resume work and there is little distraction or entertainment. Many Kashmiris we spoke to said they did not mind the civil strike – the shutdown of shops and businesses – but were anxious about the uncertainty of what lies next. Many said they felt hurt and humiliated, their sense of identity taken away.