Saturday, May 8, 2010

Hope in the Valley of despair

With conflict in Jammu and Kashmir taking a toll on the people, British filmmaker, author and therapist Justine Hardy talks of her efforts to help the distressed people of the Valley.

Justine Hardy is a British journalist, filmmaker, yoga teacher and mental health therapist and the author of several books including three based in Kashmir. A few months ago, I read In the Valley of Mist, a documentary-style book that gives vignettes of her experiences and conversations over the 20 years she has been visiting Kashmir. I e-mailed Justine with a few questions and was intrigued to learn of her personal connection with Kashmir. Over the next few months, we mailed each other on and off and I got round to reading her other books as well. Here's the gist of our conversation.

In the Valley of Mist you wrote about the psychiatric wards in Kashmir.
Yes. Senior psychiatrists at The Government Psychiatric Hospital, Dr. Mushtaq Margoob and Dr. Arshad Hussain who feature in the book, believe that up to 90 per cent of the Valley's population of around six million has been affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Most patients get about two minutes with a doctor or psychiatrist in a crowded, noisy and chaotic outpatients' department setting. During a three-hour clinic, a psychiatrist usually sees between 150 and 200 patients. They barely have time to look at a patient's earlier case notes, and only have time to change existing dosages or recommend a different medication.

The Government of India has a good budget to tackle mental health issues in the state and, with the input of various NGOs, this means that there are now more treatments available: counselling, occupational therapy, even music therapy, meditation and multi-behavioural therapy. But it's not easy to access these either due to the numbers of patients or because it's hard to get to Srinagar.

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