Nightmares about raids and anxiety: Kashmir's communication blackout exacerbates mental health challenges

  • Hundreds of patients have been affected by the clampdown and communication blackout that has been in place in the Kashmir Valley.

  • According to a psychologist, over 40 percent of his patients have shown signs of mental illnesses due to the recent turmoil.

  • The Kashmir Valley has witnessed restrictions, and communication systems have been suspended for the past 19 days.

Srinagar: On 5 August, 16-year-old Mohammad Adil of Delipora area of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district was glued to the television watching home minister Amit Shah argue about the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. As soon as the bill was passed, Adil went unconscious.

Adil, a student of Class 10, has since then been suffering from dissociative episodes, according to Dr Aijaz, who is a consultant clinical psychologist at Institute Of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Kashmir (IMHANS)

“He has been suffering from depression since that time. He does not speak much either. He doesn’t interact with his parents, and gets extremely angry over small things, ” said Aijaz.

Adil is among hundreds of patients who have been affected by the clampdown and communication blackout that has been in place in the Kashmir Valley.

According to Aijaz, over 40 percent of his patients have shown signs of mental illnesses due to the recent turmoil. “There are people who are not being able to talk to their relatives. Some are anxious after not being able to talk to parents or children living outside the Valley,” he explained.

The psychologist said that there are also some patients who were recovering, but suffered a relapse due to the curbs and communication blackout. “Patients are coming with complaints of lack of appetite and sleeplessness. Although these cannot be categorised as chronic depression, they are features of depression,” he said.

Aijaz said that restrictions such as those presently in place in Kashmir affect people's routines, and lead to anxiety.

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For the past 15 days, 26-year-old Aqib Rashid Wani of Khankah-e-Moula area of Srinagar has been waking up in the middle of the night after having nightmares of him being arrested by government forces.

 Nightmares about raids and anxiety: Kashmirs communication blackout exacerbates mental health challenges

Aqib Rashid Wani 26, holding a OPD ticket in his hand. Image: Kaisar Andrabi

For Wani, the nightmares started after forces conducted raids in the neighbouring areas of Srinagar. “I wake up panting in the middle of the night, as if I have been running for miles trying to evade arrest,” Wani said.

In addition to nightmares, Wani has been experiencing bouts of anxiety and panic attacks. “After the nightmares persisted, I decided to visit the hospital,” Wani said, adding that did so despite the taboo that the illness carries.

Wani further said that he feels suffocated due to being "caged" in his house. “I want to go out, but then, there is nowhere to go. And that’s when panic attacks take over my brain.”

At the psychiatry section of Srinagar's Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital on Thursday, the gloomy expressions of people stood in sharp contrast to the sunny weather outside. Till 2 pm on that day, about 400 patients had visited the OPD.

“Patients from all parts of Kashmir, in order to avoid restrictions, arrive as early as 6 in the morning,” said Nazir Ahmad, an employee who checks patient cards.

On 5 August, Parliament abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution, scrapping the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. It also passed a reorganisation bill that meant that the state was divided into two Union Territories, Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir.

In the aftermath of the decision, the Kashmir Valley has witnessed restrictions, and communication systems have been suspended for the past 19 days. As per reports, thousands of people have been arrested during raids across the Valley.

A doctor said, “Uncertainty anywhere is not good for a person's well-being. When one is in a state of perpetual uncertainty, it will affect the person's mental state."

She further said, “If a patient is suffering from any prior illness, such a situation destabilises him or her. The condition of people suffering from anxiety disorders may worsen."

The doctor added that five out of 10 patients visiting her have mental health issues due to the prevailing situation in the Valley. She further said that some of her patients are worried about being arrested for no crime of theirs, while others are worried about night-time raids and the anticipation of a crackdown. “The precipitating factor for mental illnesses for a lot of people is the current situation. Even patients who come to the hospital with other complaints talk about it," she said.

The doctor said, “We have patients coming here with panic attacks that they suffered because of the news that they heard. The condition of some patients on medication destabilised after they heard about the prevailing situation."

Mohammad Rafiq Khan, 32, waiting for his turn in IMHANS institute Srinagar. Image: Saqib Mugloo

Mohammad Rafiq Khan, 32, waiting for his turn in IMHANS institute, Srinagar. Image: Saqib Mugloo

Speaking about how the communication blackout was affecting the population, she described a female patient who had been suffering from a form of mania, but had been doing well. The communication blockade affected her mental health and her condition worsened. “Her marriage is slated to take place in three months, and her fiancé is living outside the region. Due to the lack of means of communication, she is unsure of what will happen. She wonders if her wedding will take place, and has other negative thoughts. She has now been admitted to the hospital,” the doctor said.

Restrictions on the movement of people have also increased the anxieties amongst people. For instance, 32-year-old Mohammad Rafiq Khan from Tangadhar area of north Kashmir said that he missed an appointment with the doctor due to the harsh restrictions that were in place in the Valley. “I was initially not able to reach Srinagar due to restrictions. I was stopped at multiple places," he said.

As Khan missed his appointment, his health condition worsened, and he also had to spend money to stay at a local hotel. He said, “I am a poor man, and spending Rs 800 on a hotel is something I cannot afford.”

Updated Date: Aug 27, 2019 20:53:44 IST