Suicides On Rise in Kashmir as Continuous Lockdown Takes a Toll on Mental Health

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A deserted street is seen through barbwire set up as a blockade during curfew in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Aug. 6, 2019. The image was part of a series of photographs by Associated Press photographers which won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

Since the abrogation of Article 370 last year in August, the continuous lockdown has taken a toll on the mental health of the people, what with many students and businessmen taking the extreme step

Aaqib Fayaz | Clarion India

When a teenage girl was rushed to Sopore’s Sub District hospital on July 18, 2020, it looked like any other trauma case before a relative cleared the air, “The 15-year-old from Sopore’s Dooru village area was found hanging in her room.”

The family members rushed her to the Sub District Hospital Sopore where she breathed her last. However, a doctor at Sopore hospital said the victim was pronounced dead on arrival.

Similarly, on 8 July, 2020, when a 21-year-old girl (name withheld) died by suicide after consuming poisonous substance at her home in Kunusa village of north Kashmir’s Bandipora District, it was too late for her family to save her life. She was declared dead by the doctors on arrival at the hospital but the reason for the suicide was not immediately known.

Six days later, as the question, what drove her to such an extreme path, was still a matter of investigation, some masked villagers in Apple Town Sopore started assembling in a neighbourhood after learning about a young man’s shocking death. He was found hanging from the ceiling of his room. Sobbing and wringing their hands in pain, the villagers couldn’t know immediately what forced the 30-year-old to take his own life.

The Valley has witnessed 12 suicides in a span of 28 days, as reported by Kashmir Indepth News Service (KINS), a local online newspaper in Kashmir.

Since the abrogation of Article 370 last year in August, the continuous lockdown has taken a toll on the mental health of the people. Students and the business community are the main victims.

Doctors in Kashmir say that the main reason for the suicide is linked to mental health. They also observed that out of the total reported cases of suicides, females have a high number as they have to face many challenges in society which takes a toll on their mental health and sometimes forces them to take the extreme step.

Dr Abrar Ahmad, a psychiatrist at Jhelum Valley College (JVC), Srinagar, recalls how young girls around 12 to 13 years of age would regularly visit him in the hospital before the lockdown, all them having some sort of mental disorder with different reasons.

“One day, a young girl, who had failed in her Class 10 exams, and also lacked family support, tried to attempt suicide by self- injuring herself. Luckily ,she survived as her injury was not so grave,” says Dr Abrar.

Dr Abrar adds that in most of the cases, family pressure is one of the reasons behind suicides among youngsters. This has just increased during the lockdown as everyone is confined to their homes. Mental health has taken a toll on everyone, giving rise to suicidal ideations.

Besides depression, there’s also a strong sense of stigma. In Kashmir, it has been a stigma to talk about mental health for a very long time. But at times, this sense of stigma escalates the mental trauma and forces a person to attempt suicide. The

Result is that Kashmir has seen many suicide cases by people of various age groups and occupations. According to the National Crime Records Bureau 2018 report, the number of suicides in Jammu & Kashmir was 330 in 2018, as compared to 287 in 2017.

According to an editorial in Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, after the abrogation of Article 370 when physical access and communication became difficult, a person had to walk to call an ambulance.

“A third of the population had entertained thoughts of ending their life. In such a situation to have a prolonged communication blackout and restrictions on movement, when people cannot meet or speak with friends and family except those in the immediate neighbourhood must only increase stress levels,” mentions the editorial.

When Waris Amin, an associate recruiter with an HR-based company in Bengaluru, was unable to communicate with his parents for months due to the suspension of phone services in Kashmir, he tried to attempt suicide. His colleagues reached him on time and rushed him to a hospital.

“Due to continuous blockade of phone services, I was unable to speak with my parents, which I usually used to do before going to bed. But with no phone services working in Kashmir for months, I felt lonely, which took a toll on my mental health and I became a patient of depression. One day, when I couldn’t bear the situation, and tried to take my life,” says Amin.

A person who is in depression feels helpless, hopeless, and worthless and in some cases tries to end his/her life by attempting suicide, says Dr Asmat Mushtaq, a mental health programme officer.

Depression is like any other disease, which can be treated with counselling and medication when needed at a certain level. But people with mental illnesses should be accepted and prioritized and they should not be neglected because people with major depression are prone to die by suicide, emphasizes Dr Asmat.

Dr Asmat believes that Covid-19 is also a reason for the suicide. If someone is tested positive with disease, the patient becomes hopeless and tries to end their life.

Earlier in the month, a paramedic staff employee (name withheld) working in an isolation ward at JVC, tried to attempt suicide by hanging himself when he tested positive, fearing that the disease might spread to others in the hospital. But, luckily, he survived as he was seen by a colleague who informed the staff and took him to the emergency ward where he was treated.

Every person has a different level of stress endurance limit, says Akmal Ahmad Shah, a clinical psychologist from Bandipora. “The continuous lockdown in Kashmir since last year is showing its effects on mental health on the people now, and is fuelling a mental health emergency, and, in coming days we might see a rise in numbers of cases of suicides in the valley,” adds Akmal.

“When my parents came to Bengaluru, I tried to spend most of the time with them only to come out of depression which haunted my life. Sometimes, when I remember those days, it still gives me panic attacks,” recalls Amin.

Today, Amin is back to his normal life, he now spends most of his time with his friends, and goes for long walks in the morning and evenings.

(The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the Clarion India.)

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