State of mental healthcare unsound in Kashmir

Greater Kashmir

State of mental healthcare unsound in Kashmir

Zehru Nissa

Srinagar | Posted : May 20 2018 12:54AM | Updated: May 20 2018 12:29AM

While mental health facilities in J&K were expected to get boost with enactment of Mental Healthcare Act 2017, the state government continues to sleep over upgradation of existing psychiatric facilities in the conflict-ridden Kashmir where psychiatric illnesses are rife.

In 2016, Médecins Sans Frontières, India (MSF) released its Kashmir Mental Health Survey, the first of its kind report that detailed the burden of psychiatric illnesses in Kashmir where conflict and trauma have been witnessed for decades.

As per the survey, one in every four households in Kashmir had a member who suffered from a mental illness.

The survey stated that as many as 1.8 million (45%) adults in the Kashmir were experiencing symptoms of mental distress with 41% exhibiting probable depression. Given these figures, government’s special focus was expected on improving psychiatric facilities in Kashmir.

However, the government’s neglect towards mental health can be gauged from the fact that many proposals for upgradation of the existing facilities have been gathering dust for years.
A source in Government Medical College (GMC) Srinagar said that a proposal was submitted to the state government for adding manpower and infrastructure to the existing psychiatric facilities in 2004. “After that, the department was asked to resubmit the proposal, many times,” he said. However, even after resubmissions and reminders, no action has been taken by the authorities concerned.

The proposal, a copy of which has been accessed by Greater Kashmir, minces no words in stating that mental health facilities run by GMC Srinagar were “compromised” due to government’s inaction.
“The shortage of manpower has been a prime issue in the service delivery,” the proposal suggests.

Currently, a 100-bedded hospital at Rainawari here and a 40-bedded mental health facility at SMHS are being run by the GMC Srinagar’s psychiatry department. Being the only full-fledged psychiatry facility is Kashmir, the department received over 1.3 lakh out-patients in its Rainwari Hospital alone between April 2017 and March 2018, as per records. In addition, hundreds of patients are seen every day at SMHS community center, many of them getting admitted for de-addiction. This de-addiction center is the only hospital based de-addiction center in Kashmir.
The department has been seeking an addition of 10 faculty positions considering the norms laid down for the bed strength for a 140 bed establishment.

In addition, it has also been waiting for an addition of 10 lecturers and an equal number of registrars to its existing staff.

However, although the department is in expansion mode adding more beds to 100-bedded facility at Rainwari, there is no commitment on sanction of additional staff.
The source said that shortage of nurses at Kashmir’s only psychiatric hospital was posing a great impediment in delivery of patient care. “There are only 12 nurses on the rolls here, out of which four are in administration, working as supervisors,” the source said.

He added that at night, a single nurse is supposed to cater to the 100 beds. “She is also expected to take role of a pharmacist and attend OPD ticket counter in case of emergency,” the source said.

The long pending demand of sanction of 15 additional nurses has repeatedly met with cold response, the source said.

In March 2017, government of India enacted Mental Healthcare Act (MHA) 2017, implementation of which has been mandatory for states, including J&K.

The act aimed to ensure that sufficient provision was put in place by the government for a range of services required by persons with mental illness. It also mandates that “half-way homes, sheltered accommodation, supported accommodation as may be prescribed” are set up. However, the mental health experts feel that given the apathy of the government towards the mental health, the Act will remain confined to papers only.