WLD 200630 Kashmir-children-1593506628913
At the well-being centre of Kashmir’s premier hospital — Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS) — dozens of mental health-related cases were reported since the outbreak of the deadly virus. Image Credit:

Srinagar: Over the decades, Indian-administered Kashmir has witnessed unending violence, leaving tens of thousands dead while thousands have disappeared. However, of late, during the COVID-19 pandemic, children are suffering from bouts of depression as heartrending stories of human sufferings come to light. This has triggered a growing mental health crisis in the region. Since the breakout of the pandemic, dozens of youngsters face mental health issues.

By and large, things look bleak as cases of children who are suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have recently doubled and crossed the 400-mark, even as the coronavirus pandemic has so far claimed 85 lives. A total of 5,500 positive cases have so far been recorded in this volatile region.

Consumption of COVID-19 news

With many distressed due to the fear of coronavirus, checking news related to the pandemic has added to the woes of children.

Irfan Ahmed (name changed), 17, who is obsessed with news about the pandemic aims to become a scientist. Irfan, who hails from the Baramulla district, recently suffered panic attacks. He maintained that he was a bit better before the lockdown due to COVID-19. However, 10th class student believes his condition has deteriorated since the outbreak of the virus and the lockdown that followed.

WLD 200630 Kashmir-children-2-1593506626993
Battered by stress at home, many parents complain that their children have developed strange behaviour patterns, giving them sleepless nights.

Concurrently, Irfan is receiving counselling from a doctor and is optimistic that he will do better.

“I am getting negative thoughts, which often leave my head heavy. This has pushed me into medication. I am worried about my studies. I often lock myself up to spend time in isolation. And that is the time when I feel most comfortable,” Irfan told Gulf News.

Battered by stress at home, many parents complain that their children have developed strange behaviour patterns, giving them sleepless nights.

“As soon as he started staying in isolation, I kept a check on him. It hurts when your child has to go through such trying times. As of now, we’re handling him with care. He had always been an avid reader. However, since the lockdown, he hasn’t touched his books, though he is attending online classes,” Irfan’s mother told Gulf News.

Fear of getting infected

At the well-being centre of Kashmir’s premier hospital — Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS) — dozens of mental health-related cases were reported since the outbreak of the deadly virus.

“Most of the cases have emerged through phone calls. However, given the pandemic, very few turn out for a face-to-face session,” said one of the psychologists at SMHS.

“I have developed this strange habit of washing my hands repeatedly throughout the day. I always feel I am being infected. I had developed this feeling following coronavirus-related news. It at times makes me feel so sick,” Faiqa, who is a sixth-grade student, disclosed.

According to clinical psychologist Shahnawaz Alam, seclusion has led to anxiety among youngsters. He reiterated that unwanted thoughts of getting infected by coronavirus has caused further stress and triggered changes in behaviour patterns among children in the Kashmir valley.

“Many believe we’re morally bound to help each other, especially children who’re facing mental health issues amid the pandemic. Besides, a lot has been happening in the region [politically], which naturally tends to leave an impact on youngsters,” Alam said.

Recently, according to the World Health organisation (WHO), the pandemic has witnessed a dramatic increase in people taking extreme steps.

“They [parents] need to introspect and back their children. They need to make them understand that we can all get over this and get back to our normal lives,” said Syed Ehtisham, a local.

“I believe the fear instilled among us has been through fake news and exaggeration of reality via the broadcast medium,” said Mustafa Firdous, who is doing a PhD in Psychology.

While talking about mental health, experts believe the situation can be tackled with willpower, apart from doing things what one loves to do. And parents must keep an eye on their children.

“I urge parents to minimise consumption of news about this virus. It naturally causes stress and anxiety among children who can end up having a fear of catching the infection,” a psychiatrist said.

Depressed at home

During the pandemic, a rise in suicidal thoughts have been recorded in more than 50 per cent of child mental health cases, which according to experts is a major cause of concern.

Despite it being a global phenomenon, children in Kashmir, who are anyway vulnerable to severe anxiety, now face a breaking point. Psychologists believe social engagement and positivity constitute the best remedy to counter mental complications — particularly among youngsters.

Recently, the former state of Jammu and Kashmir had witnessed a seventh-month lockdown, which has only worsened the situation.

“With high-speed internet still barred in Kashmir, I feel frustrated at times while taking online classes. I miss my school days, friends,” Kaiser, a student said.

Tahir Ibn Manzoor is a freelance writer based in Indian-administered Kashmir.