The mental health care in Kashmir hospitals has taken hit due to the dearth of psychiatrists despite manifold increase in the psychiatric disorder cases over the years.
An official at the Directorate of Health Services Kashmir (DHSK) said mental health; an integral part of health sector has been left handicapped due to the shortage of manpower including psychiatrists.
Though the authorities have started mental health clinics in district hospitals, many districts are still facing the shortage of psychiatrists leaving patients disgruntled.
The directorate, under National Mental Health Programme (NMHP) scheme, was supposed to give mental health knowledge to doctors, other paramedics, non-medicos and community at large but nothing seems to be implemented on the ground.
According to health experts, poor awareness, myths of stigma and lack of knowledge about treatment leads to a high treatment gap.
“We were supposed to generate mental health awareness with an aim to reduce stigma and encourage life skills education and counselling in schools, colleges but that has been ignored over the years,” said the official.
He said in the majority of the districts’, the mental health has been taken for granted which is causing inconveniences to patients and prompting them to visit Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS) Srinagar.
The mental hospital is grappling with the shortage of doctors and paramedics staff which compromises the care of the mentally ill people who visit the facility from far off places.
“We have only four permanent faculty members and two others are working on an ad-hoc basis,” a doctor at the hospital said.
Quoting official figures he said, on an average, 300 patients’ visit the outpatient department at the department of psychiatry at SMHS, while as over 250 patients visit the psychiatry hospital daily.
“Of them (total patients) about 15 are admitted for the treatment. The six doctors cater to patients at SMHS as well as at IMHANS on rotation,” said the doctor.
Authorities at IMHANS have repeatedly submitted the demand for the improvement in the manpower but the files are gathering dust with the government.
According to doctors, manpower is the vital component for the mental health care which has faced negligence over the years adding authorities did not advertise posts for the same adding burden to patients.
“We not only need psychiatrists but psychologists, clinical psychologists, counsellors, nurses, pharmacists, and social workers to treat the patients,” he said.
Director General Health Services Kashmir, Dr Saleem Ur Rehman, under the chairmanship of whom the recently drafted health policy outline has been prepared has noted many discrepancies.
“We are handicapped by lack of psychiatrists and mental health professionals. IMHANS cannot cater to the entire population,” he said.
He said that the policy envisages for the decentralization of psychiatry services and provision of psychiatry services at all district hospitals and CHC.
“The district mental health programme has been started in a few districts and needs to be augmented and supported to provide quality services,” Rehman said.
The upcoming policy also notes that in addition, counsellors hired under different schemes like NHM, NPCDCS, NTCP can be pooled and trained at IMHANS to provide quality counselling services at district and sub-district level.
“Treatment of mental health disorders is of utmost importance. The policy is to promote the availability of and access to cost-effective treatment of common mental disorders at the primary health care level,” it adds.
More than 50, 000 mental illness cases have been registered at the psychiatry hospital in 2017, with official figures suggesting a steep rise in these cases over time.
In March last year, government of India enacted Mental Healthcare Act (MHA) 2017, implementation of which has been mandatory for states, including J&K but nothing concrete is being done at the grassroots level to strengthen psychiatric care.