Mental health professionals in the Kashmir valley have warned of an “epidemic of psychological disorders” among the children exposed to “rare, complex, ongoing trauma” due to the prolonged conflict in the region, as a new video of a three-year-old boy showed him describing the sequence of events leading to the killing of his grandfather before his eyes in north Kashmir’s Sopore on Wednesday.
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The Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences-Kashmir (IMHANS-K) on Thursday began monitoring the behaviour of the three-year-old child from Srinagar’s HMT area, a process that is expected to continue for the next six weeks.
“We will monitor how the child will heal from the traumatic experience. Any disturbing behavioural pattern would require management by mental health experts,” Dr. Syed Karrar, paediatric neuropsychiatrist at IMHANS-K, told The Hindu .
Describing the images, where the child was seen sitting on the body of his grandfather, and the latest video of the incident “highly disturbing”, Dr. Karrar said, “Children at this age may not have an idea of the permanence of death but they find it hard to extract the trauma, unlike older children and adults. In fact, the traumatic experience may manifest differently.”
What worries mental health professionals in the Valley is the danger of the affected children reliving these experiences for many years.
“Early childhood (0-6 years) traumatic experiences have immense impact on psychological well-being. They have more potential to impact the development of brain structures,” Dr. Karrar said.
Such images may have already become a cue for conflict-affected children to experience “vicarious trauma”, he added.
Children in south Kashmir
IMHANS-K has already seen around 200 mental trauma cases among children in the past 12 months, which were marred by frequent crackdowns by security forces, encounters and funerals in J&K.
Of the 200 cases, according to the IMHANS-K data, 65-70% of the affected children were from south Kashmir and around 80% belonged to pre-adolescence and early adolescence age groups.
“Many children from south Kashmir talked about the presence of security personnel as a trigger for anxiety, irritability and anger. Many were having flashbacks, inducing episodic sightings of trauma, fright, scary dreams and sleep disorders,” Dr. Karrar said.
Doctors said children in south Kashmir cannot be categorised as “classic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)”. “In Kashmir’s case, trauma is an ongoing experience, from one episode to another. It’s a complex trauma peculiar to Kashmir, unlike the clinical acute or chronic trauma,” he added.
There were chances of “maladaptive coping” among such children. “The developmental trajectory of such children gets affected as a consequence, and it may lead to depression and drug abuse,” doctors at IMHANS-K warned.