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Discarded for disorder—No takers for Kashmir’s distressed minds 

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‘These patients aren’t taken back despite their families being aware of their sound state. These poor souls are clearly facing violation at the hands of their indifferent families.’

Hiding hassled life behind her beaming face, a middle-aged woman sluggishly hung out the washed clothes to dry which she has already washed thrice since morning. 

In the sunny lawn of Srinagar’s Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS), her life follows its own diagnostic dullness. She craves for empathy in an ecosystem of emptiness. But like others, the woman follows a never-ending circle.

She’s not done yet. The cleaning process repeats after every interval. 

“They’re not clean yet,” she says with a smile. “I’ve to wash them again.”

Stricken by stereotypes and sense of abandonment, this woman patient—diagnosed with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)—has been craving for home and family for a while now.

Years before her hospital humdrum, she was simply brought for a “course-correction” and put on medication. Back home, her relentless hand-washing habit had earned her tags and some concern of her “loved ones”. 

But, once sheltered in the sickbay, everyone vanished — especially those showing concern over her mental state. “It feels terrible to be discarded like this,” the woman says. “I was dumped here as if I never mattered to anyone, especially my family.” 

In the same ward, a woman in her late 50s, talks gibberish which the healthcare workers have been trying hard to comprehend for years now. Efforts to trace the family of this nameless patient have failed so far. But the hospital is duly taking care of her shelter, treatment and meals.

“We’ve to fulfill the basic needs of these abandoned patients here,” says a healthcare worker. “In fact, we contribute money from our own salaries for their welfare. But the sad part is, these patients aren’t taken back despite their relatives aware of their sound state now. These poor souls are clearly facing human right violation at the hands of their indifferent families.”

Shockingly, the hospital staffers say, some of these patients are being disowned for property reasons. “Their disorder is apparently a good-riddance for their families,” says an official in the hospital. “In their forsaken state, we even manage their burial now.”

A few years back, a distraught patient from a well-off family was seen in hypothermic condition on a roadside. He later died in the psychiatry hospital. However, what shocked everyone was his family’s snub to perform his last rites. The denial forced the hospital authorities to involve police. The intervention gave the deceased—a distressed man during his lifetime—a decent burial in his ancestral graveyard. 

“The troubled mindset is not a problem,” continues the official quoted above, “but the treatment towards it is a highly problematic thing.”

Abandonment of patients, experts say, is a major issue when it comes to mental health disorders of Kashmir. The stigma and taboo attached to it remain severe and sneering. 

Oblivious of their mental state, the patients often face a harsh treatment from their family members. The behavior isolates them to their fixed boundaries, experts say, even pushes them to the wall before they end up at the psychiatry hospital. 

Patients of all age-group fall in lines with their prescription slips and report cards there. Most of them avoid an eye-contact to avoid shame and shyness, while others stare with anger. Their fraught faces tell tale of their anxious state. 

These “asylum” scenes are overwhelming and clearly offer a peek to Kashmir’s muddled mindscape.

Some dozens of interviews that this reporter conducted with patients in the hospital reveal how the mental distress is still being dismissed as a paranormal activity or evil-eye in the valley. 

The patient is mostly taken to the faith-healer, neglecting the mental health aspect of his/her condition. This blind pursuit is being attributed to the stereotyping and unawareness.

In fact, many of these distressed patients assert that their condition is being brushed under the carpet with a sweeping statement, like: “It’s not possible! How your mental health can be affected? You’re just fine. Don’t take these things seriously.” 

This is when, mental healthcare experts warn, patients tend to ignore the issues bothering them for a long—thus leading to unavoidable and out-of-control behavioral changes.

“Support, care and love is important in these situations,” says a psychiatrist posted in the hospital. “But sadly, not many help these patients to return to their normal life. This is happening because mental health patients are considered a burden in the society.” 

IMHANS, Srinagar.

 

Diagnosed with Schizophrenia, Abdul Salam has been in the psychiatric hospital for the last 16 years now. His family, especially his mother, last visited him some four years ago. 

When Salam was in his thirties, he would mostly act sloth and sleep. One day he received his irked father’s sound beating over his indolence. In retaliation, the sluggish son slammed his father with an axe and killed him. 

Salam was booked under murder charges and locked up by police. Later, he was shifted to the psychiatric hospital, as he was considered “mentally-ill” after several court trials. 

His plea for home since then has been opposed by his family in the name of a pending court verdict. However, the hospital authorities say that Najar’s family isn’t following his case and doesn’t support him by any means. 

“They’ve refused to take him back despite reminders from our side,” says a health official attending Najar. “Nobody wants an ill-patient at their home, even if he’s capable of doing normal activities. The family avoids such members and doesn’t take care of them. All they care about is their own reputation and how society will perceive them. This indifference only worsens the patient’s condition.”

Aside from shunting for shaming parents in presence of guests, these patients aren’t receiving proper treatment support from their families. 

In one of the cases, a family member refused to clear his ailing ward’s medical bills forcing the patient to avail guardianship. 

“If these patients get the social support, they’ll improve but they’re facing the hostile treatment,” a healthcare worker says. “We’ve to call the families when there’s a medical emergency, but they don’t always turn up. Some even change their numbers or block our calls so that we don’t contact them.”

Unfortunately, says Dr. Arshad Hussain, a professor and psychiatrist at IMHANS, most of these mentally-distressed patients are being abandoned by the upper-class and upper-middle-class families. 

“It still makes some sense if a lower-class abandons mentally-unsound patients due to an unaffordable treatment cost, but what makes the upper ladder of society do that,” Dr. Arshad wonders. 

“We need to review and revisit our behavior towards our distressed loved ones. Abandonment is a problem, not a solution.”

Meanwhile, in the dizzying affairs of the hospital, the woman with OCD comes out with another bucket of clothes. It’s a sixth round and the faded clothes, she says, need another cleaning session. 

“Nobody bothers to visit me here,” she laments. “I feel anxious and alone. My family is only tormenting me in the name of treatment. I’m not getting any better here. I’m still fighting my old demons away from home.”

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