Amid COVID-19 pandemic, the doctors in Kashmir are braving against all odds to fight the major mental health issues, which are plaguing the valley population, especially the younger generation.
According to the doctors at Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience (IMHANS), more than 30,000 mental health cases have been reported at the institute in the last four months, and the number is increasing every day.
The records show that the hospital receives more than 300 patients with different mental health problems daily, while the child psychiatry section receives 30-40 cases. Besides, the hospital has received more than 70,000 mental health cases from April 2020 to March 2021.
In Kashmir Division, Srinagar district tops with more patients admitted, followed by Baramulla, Anantnag, Kupwara, Kulgam, Budgam, Pulwama and other districts.
Doctors at the hospital said that they have carried out more than 2000 psychological tests of the patients. Among the mental ailment cases, depression, anxiety and insomnia have been prevalent among the younger population of Kashmir.
“In the recent past, we used to receive less depression cases, but now it has increased since COVID-19 broke out. Depression among youth places individuals at risk for academic, social difficulties, anxiety and mood disorders. We are first counselling the depressive patients. If counselling serves no purpose, then we prefer to give medicines to them,” HOD Psychiatry, IMHANS, Dr Mohammad Maqbool Dar told Rising Kashmir.
Dr Maqbool said that the hospital also receives Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) patients every day. “Patients with PTSD usually have bipolar mood mania. It is a condition where patients have recurring distressing memories, flashbacks and other symptoms after having or witnessing a traumatic event or scene. We give them antidepressant medication and non-medicinal treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy and proper counselling. Good and happy environment is also a must for such patients,” he said.
Dr Yasir Hussain Rather, psychiatrist at IMHANS said that the cases of mental issues have increased since COVID-19 pandemic.
“During covid-19 outbreak, normal life was totally disrupted. There were economic repercussions, people lost their jobs, closure of educational institutions, children were restricted to indoors. So, it all had a psychological effect on mental health. Even the gigantic population is suffering badly post covid-19. We have seen delirious illness which is a confusing state and post covid dementia among elderly people. Loneliness can have a negative effect on elderly patient’s mental health,” he said.
He said that Covid -19 has affected everyone badly. “We are treating children and adolescents upto the age of 16. They are facing different issues like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), hyperkinetic disorders, neurodevelopmental disorders, depression and anxiety, post Covid dementia, new onset dementia,” he said.
Dr Rather said the doctors at IMHANS have seen post covid depression symptoms among adults and youngsters. “Coronavirus infection does not only affect lungs; it also affects multiple organs like the brain. This infection brings biological change in the brain and there is no psycho social cause.” Dr. Rather said.
He said that some patients who had recovered from COVID-19 are suffering from dementia including long-term memory and attention issues. “Earlier, 20 years back the response was not that good and due to stigma mental health was given less priority. But now, the time has changed, there are great advancements in psychiatry, new generation medicines including therapies. People are taking mental health more seriously now,” he said.
According to a study “Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on mental health of general population in Kashmir Valley”, COVID-19 pandemic has added further trauma to Kashmir. “Preventive measures like social distancing can lead to increased loneliness and the feeling of being neglected, particularly for the elderly population, which can precipitate mental health issues," the study mentions.
The study found that 49.5% had depression, 34.8% had anxiety and 22.3% had stress varying from mild to extremely severe forms. Out of the total participants in the study, mild forms of depression, anxiety and stress were present in 19.9%, 9.8% and 11.8% respectively.
Moderate forms of depression, anxiety and stress were present in 19.2%, 16.7% and 7.0% respectively while severe forms of depression, anxiety and stress were present in 8.4%, 5.6% and 3.5% respectively.
Extremely severe forms of depression, anxiety and stress were present in 2.1%, 2.8% and 0.0% respectively. It is well documented that epidemics in the past have led to increase in mental health issues to a varied extent.
Dr Mohammad Maqbool Dar said that World Mental Health Day is an international day for global mental health education and awareness thereby reducing stigma and suffering of the persons with psychiatric ailments.
“The pandemic has had a major impact on people’s mental health especially frontline workers, students and those with pre-existing mental health conditions. To combat the crisis, the GMC department of psychiatry are providing 24x7 services at IMHANS-K Rainawari and also providing de-addiction services, child guidance, wellbeing services, and routine consultation liaison services at the Community general hospital unit, SMHS,” he said.
Dr Maqbool said that the department has also trained medical officers in a 15 days training programme on mental health.
Dr Umar Jan, a psychiatrist said that regular exercise can contribute to betterment of mental health. “Exercise reduces stress, improves mood, and boosts overall health,” he said.
He asked people to build a support system, find ways to relax and get enough rest and sleep for better mental health wellbeing.
According to the doctors, the importance of mental health should never be underestimated in Kashmir. “Keeping in view the tragedies, stresses and difficulties our people have faced over so many years, a surge in mental disorders has inevitably followed,” said Dr. Zaid Ahmad Wani, Professor at IMHANS, Kashmir.
He said that Kashmir has a large population with depression and anxiety disorders. “More and more children are being diagnosed with conduct and oppositional defiant disorders and aggression. Reports of suicide are no longer rare. Drug addiction is at an all-time high. We can safely say that mental disorders have increased across the spectrum,” he said.
He further said that the need of the hour is to augment the mechanisms to further strengthen the coping mechanism of a common man. “This can be achieved through community participation, making professional help available by way of medications, counselling and psycho education. This will go a long way to reduce the mental health burden in Kashmir.” Dr Zaid said.
Every year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) marks October 10 as the World Mental Health Day, with the overall objective to raise awareness about mental health issues around the world and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health.
WHO estimates that about 7.5 per cent Indians suffer from some mental disorder. It also states that 56 million Indians suffer from depression and another 38 million Indians suffer from anxiety disorders.
According to the ‘first global estimate of the impact of the pandemic on mental health’, published in the general medical journal, The Lancet, “Cases of depression and anxiety went up by more than a quarter worldwide in 2020 due to Covid-19 pandemic.”
In 2020, cases of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders increased by 28% and 26% respectively. Women were affected more than men, and younger individuals were affected more than those in older age groups.
Another study by King's College London has revealed that the greater number of deaths amongst those with mental health conditions and intellectual disabilities has been amplified during the Covid-19 pandemic.
New research published in the journal- The Lancet Regional Health - Europe shows that between March and June 2020, during the first wave of Covid-19, mortality further increased in people with mental health conditions and intellectual disabilities compared with the general population.