It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and Xuhaib was on an assignment to cover clashes in the downtown area of Srinagar. Xuhaib,30, had been covering conflict as a photo journalist for the last 5 years. He was just around 500 meters from his home when he heard some gun shots. He immediately took cover near the corner of a house. But just when he thought he was safe, a pellet pierced through his sunglasses hitting his left eye and injuring it badly. Doctors say he has lost 99% vision and chances of recovery are bleak.

However, it’s not just the physical scars Xuhaib has to contend with. The tragic incident has also left deep mental scars. He has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Disorder (PTSD).

“I had to sit in one room for 6 months. The darkness haunts me. I feel completely numb now. I don’t feel like laughing anymore,” says Xuhaib.

Danish Muzzafar, name changed, lives just 3 km’s away from Xuhaib. He was detained by the police for uploading a video showing cops beating a student. He was charged with 7 seven offences including an attempt to murder. He has to regularly visit psychiatrist every week.
“Whenever there are Hartals and curfew it brings back those memories and it haunts me.”

The suffering of Xuhaib is not an isolated case. Post the summer unrest of 2016, the Valley has seen a large number of young people seeking help related to mental health problems. Experts say and data shows that after the unrest of 2016, the number of such cases has gone considerably high.
Witnessing violent protests on the streets, living locked up at home through a long curfew and the suspension of telecommunication services are among the many reasons that have contributed to this staggering rise, experts say.

While talking to a clinical psychologist he said, “Some people are directly affected by the conflict while some are indirectly affected.The heat in the political atmosphere is such that it has bad implications for our mental health. We have internet been banned every now and then, we are not robots, this brings helplessness and it brings anxiety. You don’t always need to have first-hand exposure to these things.”

Apart from 2016 unrest, a large number of people have suffered from conflict-related mental health problems in Kashmir for many years. A Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF) study shows that one out of every 2 adults suffers from some sort of mental illness in Kashmir.

The number of patients who visited SMHS community centre hospital during 2015-16 was 20,932 and 28,673. While in just four months of 2017 the numbers are already around 11,000, which indicate there is a huge rise in the number of patients visiting the hospital.

“Most of the cases seeking treatment in our hospital are of depression and anxiety related problems. We have 45 percent of the population in the Valley who suffer from symptoms of mental distress making it one of the highest rates in the world,” said, Yasir Rather, Assistant professor Department of Psychiatry.

“The average number of people who visited OPD was 3000, it has risen to 6000 per month.” He added.
Health sector observers say that mental health facilities in Kashmir remain inadequate and have been neglected for a long time and that there is only one government psychiatric disease hospital in the Valley which treats more than 70,000 patients every year.

“We have to come all the way to Srinagar as there are no facilities in the rural areas.” said Fayaz Ahmad, a local patient.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of patients visiting the OPD after the unrest, 120-130 patients are being treated during the OPD hours every day, officials said.

Noted psychiatrist, Dr Arshad Hussian believes seeking professional help is the key, “We need to understand that this is treatable and it’s not a life threatening illness, besides seeking professional help is the key.’’

“We need to work on thoughts and behaviour in a way that we don’t feel distressed anymore” He added.
Experts said, counselling sessions are also important; friends and family also play an important role during such testing times. We should give our children space to express themselves and always encourage them. Mental health problems can affect anyone at any stage regardless of gender or race and people need to be more open about it and break the social taboo attached to it.

Xuhaib’s is trying to get back to his feet and he has started to click photographs again. He says,” even if my legs or arms are injured I will still continue to click photographs.”

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