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Major depressive disaorder assuming epidemic proportions in J&K

Major Depressive Disorder ? a deadly psychiatric disease ? is assuming "epidemic" proportions in Kashmir, reports Arun Joshi.

india Updated: Dec 06, 2006 12:18 IST
Arun Joshi

It is a wake up call in Jammu. Major Depressive Disorder — a  deadly psychiatric  disease — is  assuming "epidemic" proportions in Kashmir.

It has already gone up by 30 per cent in the past over a decade. In the early 1990s, the number of patients to the psychiatric hospital in Srinagar — the only  hospital for treatment of such diseases has gone up from 1700-2000 per year to 60,000  per year.

"This is assuming epidemic proportions," says Dr Arshad Hussain, a  well known psychiatrist who is doing a constant study on the pattern of psychiatric diseases and their reasons.  

"It is a very serious  situation," he says. He finds the number of such patients  on the rise.

These are reported cases. There may be many more such cases, which are not reported to the hospitals because of a social stigma attached with a visit to a psychiatric hospital.  A visit to such hospitals, instantly attracts a tag of insanity. That is what the people avoid.

A sudden change in atmosphere in Kashmir in 1990s changed everything. Kashmir Valley, a place of beauty and peace where tourists could move around  even during midnight without any fear, suddenly transformed into a land where bullets zipped across and bombs killed and wounded people.

This set into motion major depressive disorders. Those most affected are women. "Their number is more than 50 per cent of the patients we receive at the hospital," Dr Arshad noted.

"Women are predisposed biologically, psychologically and socially and also form the largest survivor group, thus forming the bulk of the disease burden." 

The past 17 years have been the worst in the lives of women in Jammu and Kashmir. They have been a witness to the killing of the bread earners, their  children and also living in constant anxiety of their husbands, brothers and children having gone missing.

There is hardly any house in the five million population of Kashmir which has not been either directly or indirectly affected by the violence that has claimed 60,000 lives so far.

Women in this violence-hit state are the worst affected. Prof Seema Shekhawat of Jammu University in her research paper: Victims, perpetrators, survivors or peace building? Women In Kashmir: An overview, says : "Women face conflict-related violence doubly because of their gender, as part of civilian population. They're caught between two guns — that of terrorists and troops. Women have suffered, ranging from rape and torture to losing loved ones and homes."

That tragedy continues to haunt women in Jammu and Kashmir, and that is what is  making them the worst  victims of the major depressive disorders. At the moment there appears to be no escape for them, as the situation around them remains unchanged.

Dr Arshad  Hussain says that the disease is also catching up with the children.

This is leading to decline in school performance, anger outbursts, irritability, aberrant social functioning, poor self esteem and even behaviour of deliberate self harm. In extreme cases it might even affect the normal development of children.

And Kashmir is grappling with it as it is expanding at a rapid and dangerous speed.