Nearly 1.8 million or 45% of the total adult population in the Kashmir valley, battered by 26-years of violent conflict, show symptoms of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a survey said on Thursday.
The research by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in collaboration with Kashmir University’s department of psychology and the state’s Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, covered 5,428 households in 399 villages across all the 10 districts of the valley between October and December 2015.
According to the research summary, which was also presented at a symposium on mental health held at the Government Medical College in Srinagar, 41% of people exhibit symptoms of probable depression, 26% show symptoms of probable anxiety and 19% that of probable PTSD.
The estimated prevalence of all the three mental disorders was significantly higher for women than men. Fifty percent of women and 37% of men have probable depression, 36% of women and 21% of men have a probable anxiety disorder, and 22% of women and 18% of men have probable PTSD.
Survey findings: Mental distress in Kashmiris
The proportion of mental distress was significantly higher in the over 55 year age group for all disorders, it said.
The research revealed that exposure to multiple traumatic events was positively associated with all the mental disorders. It said, on an average, an adult living in the Kashmir Valley has witnessed or experienced 7.7 traumatic events during their lifetime. While 93% of people experienced conflict-related trauma, 94% experienced trauma due to natural disasters.
More than 70% of adults have experienced or witnessed the sudden or violent death of someone they knew, the survey said. As further exposure to trauma, 70% reported having experienced a work-related accident, transport accident and/or a life-threatening illness or injury.
“One crucial outcome of the focus group discussions held in each district was a clear gap in accessibility to mental health services. The main barrier to seeking treatment included lack of awareness of available mental health services. Other commonly mentioned obstacles included distance, travel time, and associated costs necessary to reach health services,” Dr Tambri Housen, MSF’s principal researcher, said.
It underscored an urgent need to develop a comprehensive, integrated and decentralised mental health programme in the area aiming at both prevention and treatment. The recommendations listed in the report also call for expansion of mental health care services and increased sensitisation in the community for prevention and care of mental distress.
“The next step would be to use this data and work together with key stakeholders and mental health experts to tailor healthcare services to meet the mental health needs of people in Kashmir,” Dr Housen said.
The full report will be released on May 25 by the MSF.