54 lakh Valleyites suffering from PTSD
British author-journalist Justine Hardy has watched Kashmir over the last 20 years and witnessed the impact of the protracted conflict on the mental health of people. Hardy, who under the auspices of her 'Healing Kashmir' project, brought alternative therapists from the UK to treat trauma patients recently, spoke to Sameer Arshad of Times of India.What has been the cost of conflict in terms of mental health?The conflict has caused long-term mental damage to a high percentage of the population. There was one psychiatric hospital in the Valley, where doctors would have perhaps one patient a day in 1989. By 1994, the doctors were seeing up to 300 patients a day. One of the highest costs of the conflict to the government would be the budget for mental health and most specifically the varied disorders associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD makes a whole range of people either roll their eyes or argue that this is a modern invention, a by-product of our softening society. The doubters have probably not witnessed war: they've not seen their children being blown up; they haven't had their son delivered to their doorstep, his body barely recognisable.Can't they just pull themselves together and get on with their lives?They can't. The shock often results in a nervous breakdown, reducing the individual to a barely functioning state. Several psychiatrists claim that up to 90 per cent of the Valley's population of around six million has been affected by some PTSD level. It's impossible to rebuild a society that is only functioning partially on a mental level. The government response was to medicate the problem, literally, with very high doses of tranquillisers, sedatives, anti-psychotics and anti-depressant drugs. The side effects of many of these high doses have been as difficult to manage as the disorders.An integrated approach is needed for these people to recover and allow the society as a whole to progress and heal. The idea of combining conventional and alternative therapies was the route I wanted to pursue, but on the condition that it could be done with the participation of local doctors. But most of the psychiatrists I spoke to in Kashmir barely had time to breathe.How different is your project?Our aim is to treat patients with a combination of conventional and alternative medication and therapies for the fullest recovery. In November 2009, 'Healing Kashmir' brought four alternative therapists from the UK and treated patients in both the clinical environment and villages. The average number of treatments was between four and seven sessions that included counselling, homeopathy, physiotherapy, cranio-sacral therapy and Reiki. The results were dramatic. Kashmiris have felt very isolated during the course of the conflict, so just the arrival of foreign therapists in itself had a positive effect. Most patients are used to two minutes with a doctor or psychiatrist in crowded, noisy and chaotic hospitals. We were treating patients individually in a quiet room, for up to an hour at a time.