Counselling services make inroads in Kashmir

With the valley becoming a conflict zone, centres are being set up to help people to deal with stress

A counselling session in progress at a centre in Jammu and Kashmir.

With more than two decades of conflict taking heavy toll on psyche of people, professional counselling services are making inroads in Kashmir despite the fact that the
Valley has been known for faith-healing for centuries. Across the length and breadth of Kashmir, neighbourhoods are dotted with various shrines and the Valley has been historically called as Peer Waer (the abode of saints).

People have been traditionally visiting these sacred places to invoke the blessings of saints for dealing with any stress.   However, with the Valley becoming a conflict zone, various mental health organisations and professionals are taking keen interest in helping people in dealing with the stress and mental health issues with the modern therapies, including counselling on phone, art therapies and laughter therapies.

Some experts attribute the increasing unrest in Kashmir Valley, surge in drug addiction, stone pelting and other juvenile delinquencies to the increasing stress among Valley’s children and youth.

Incr­easing suicidal tendencies, unemployment and a fewer avenues of employment are also linked to the people ado­p­ting Western approaches of coping with stress which is making Kashmir a fertile ground for mental health workers. “The present generation does not buy the traditional approach of dealing with stress through the faith healers. They
believe more in modern and rational methods of coping with various problems and that is why these services are becoming popular in the valley,” Valley’s renow­ned clinical physiologist Dr Muzafar Khan told Deccan Herald.

He believes that the acceptability of new approaches to various social problems is a natural phenomenon. “The increasing urbanisation and modernisation of society have led to the break down of traditional social structure, including the transition of traditional joint families into numerous nuclear families. This has led to increase in stress-related issues in the Valley,” Dr Khan added.

Dr Khan, who is behind the Jammu and Kashmir Police 24X7 helpline, to provide round-the-clock facility-cum-counselling to the drug addicts and persons having other abnormal behaviour, said it is common for people in Kashmir to seek help locally before consulting an expert. “I think 80 per cent of people suffer from this problem. They go to some doctor, who will take money and give them  wrong drugs. But now with influx of
professional helplines, the situation is expected to improve,” he added.

Childline Foundation of India, launched in Srinagar in March 2011 and manned by a team of 12 professional counsellors, is another 24-hour toll-free telephone service which counsels Valley’s children in distress. The Foundation, which has been running this service across various cities in India, has secured multiple dedicated toll-free lines form various telecom operators with the unique number 1098 and anybody can ring this number and access the services.

Kashmir Lifeline and Mental Health Center, a British organisation, has also come up with a helpline for those who are in emotional and mental crisis. Kashmir Lifeline is run by British Justine Hardy, who has recently worked on various projects in Kashmir and has felt that the people of Kashmir need professional mental health services for dealing with the stress.

Dr Arif Ahmad, Medical Consultant at Kashmir Lifeline, said there is stigma
associated with psychiatric-related problems. “Especially for a girl visiting psychiatric hospital is a problem. Now with facility available on phone, it is easy for any one seeking counselling.”

The experts at the Lifeline also counsel patients online either through e-mails or Facebook. “Being a Muslim society we emphasise on religion. We try to heal the patients using religion as a tool. Though helpline is Western concept, we use local therapies to treat the patients,” Dr Ahmad said. Medicines Sans Frontiers, Holland-based International Non Government Organisation, has been running various mental health programs in Kashmir Valley in response to the mental health crisis created by the two decade old
conflict in the state.

The Valley has seen a number of suici­des or attempts to commit suicide go up drastically. “At least two to three cases of attempt to commit suicide are reported at SMHS hospital in Srinagar daily. These are figures from just one hospital and the situation seems to be alarming,” Dr Arsh­id Hussain, psychiatry consultant at the hospital said. Drug addiction is the other major stress-related social evil that has taken the Valley in its grip. According to official figures, more than 4,000 youth have approached the police drug de-addiction centre, since its inception in March 2008, for treatment.

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