Twenty years of violence between Indian Army and Kashmiri militants has resulted in at least 20,000 deaths and 4,000 displaced, according to the government figures. But the toll is even greater in terms of psychological damage to the population. A recent study that looked at the psychological health found that a third of the study participants had contemplated suicide, a sign of extreme psychological distress.
The study published in the latest issue of peer reviewed journal "Conflict and Health" was conducted by organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)'s, Simon Fraser University of Canada, and Utrecht University of Netherlands.
Study interviewed 510 Kashmiris living in Indian Kashmir. It found over one-third of respondents have symptoms of psychological distress and women show significantly higher level of distress. Feeling of insecurity was a major reason for the higher levels of psychological distress.
Survey was conducted in 2005 and includes 270 males and 240 females. The most striking finding of the study is that one-third of those surveyed had thought about ending their life in the past 30 days of the survey. The survey found that there was a difference in the reasons of psychological distress between males and females. Males who had self-experienced i.e. if they had been arrested, tortured, or abused show higher level of distress. Kashimiri women, on the other hand displayed psychological problem by just witnessing the events.
In the scientific paper the authors explain that "for males, violation of modesty, forced displacement, and disability were all associated with a significantly increased likelihood (three times the odds) of suffering from psychological distress. For women, the witnessing of people being killed or tortured or dependency on outside assistance doubled the odds of suffering psychological distress."
The data tabulated in the paper is very shocking when you consider that 63% of the respondents have seen wounded people. 40% have witnessed people being killed, 67% have seen other being tortured and 13% have witnessed rape.
44% of the respondents experienced being abused and 11% claimed that their modesty was violated.
The level of psychological problem was found to be much higher than similar studies done elsewhere in India and even when the cutoff score was set to a conservative standard. When the cutoff score was lowered to the Indian study the psychological distress was found to be over 71%.
Though one-third reported having suicidal thoughts, it does not always result in a suicide attempt. But according to one estimate about 60,000 Kashmiris did commit suicide, last year.
Withdrawing themselves or isolating themselves was the most preferred way of coping with the psychological problem. About half of them showed aggressive behavior. Many turned to religion as a source of support and finding peace.
Even though Kashmir lacks proper mental health care facility, still, over 60% of the respondents visited the health clinic to seek help. Some visited more than once in the 30 days immediately before the study interview, and women found to be visiting health facilities more than men.
The impact of violence, threat, and alertness has adversely affected armed forces too. Elevated level of psychological problem is seen among Indian Army personnel deployed in Kashmir. Past January, Indian Army hired 400 psychiatrists to help control the high numbers of suicides in its ranks.
Government should spend more money in improving mental health care facilities for the people and the soldiers. Those fighting this battle for Kashmir should stop and see what this battle for land is doing to the people living on this land.
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