Kashmir’s spring sunshine blows the cobwebs away

Seasonal affective disorder is common in Srinagar, a city riddled with the twin realities of a harsh winter and terrorism, but with spring, a lot changes

March 18, 2023 11:02 pm | Updated March 20, 2023 07:51 pm IST - SRINAGAR

A woman looks at the flowers of an Almond tree in full bloom marking the arrival of spring in the Valley, in Pulwama, South Kashmir, Monday, March 13, 2023.

A woman looks at the flowers of an Almond tree in full bloom marking the arrival of spring in the Valley, in Pulwama, South Kashmir, Monday, March 13, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

Spring is the only season that Khalida Jan, 71, finds she can smile in. Her son disappeared after security forces allegedly picked him up from north Kashmir in 1992, and life has never been the same again for her.

“Maybe the bright light of the sun, green cover, and blooming flowers remind me of the happy times we lived in, before 1992,” Ms. Jan said.

As spring breaks, psychiatrists in Kashmir are able to help their patients who are battling seasonal affective disorder (SAD) brought on by the harsh whiteness of winter and decreased sunlight, along with conflict-induced depression, transition out of antidepressant medication.

It’s not just the change of scenery, it’s also a time when people can begin going out after the winter’s ice and snow. They are joining families and friends to enjoy the first flowering in the Valley’s gardens and parks, with almond, peach, cherry, and apricot blossom. This year, the Tulip Garden expects to see the blooming of 1.5 million tulips in different colours. All this acts as mental health therapy, according to Valley-based psychiatrists.

Zakir Mir, a resident of Pulwama, visited the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS), Srinagar, in the first week of March with some “good news” for his physician. With grey and grim winter paving the way for a colourful, sunny spring, Mr. Mir told his psychiatrist that he was feeling better and “ready to give up antidepressants”.

Also read | Children in Kashmir valley vulnerable to ongoing trauma, say doctors

“Spring light and colours start elevating the mood,” said Dr. Arshad Hussain, a professor at IMHANS-Kashmir, adding that SAD sees a dip in mood-modulating hormones like dopamine and serotonin.

Around 45% of Kashmir’s adult population (1.8 million) suffers from some form of mental distress, according to a study conducted by the Department of Psychiatry, Jawahar Lal Nehru Memorial Hospital (JLNMH), Srinagar, in 2020. It also found that there was a high prevalence of trauma (47%), depression (41%), anxiety (26%), and post-traumatic stress disorder (19%).

Dr. Hussain said, “Spring emerges as a significant factor in addressing the physiological aspects of depression.” These include tiredness, sleep disturbances, appetite changes, and many more.

A change is visible at the out-patient department (OPD) at the IMHANS too. “I am prescribing fewer antidepressants for those battling seasonal depression, that is induced by the changes that take place from autumn onwards. We ask those with depression to relive or imagine moments that make them happy as part of behavioural therapy,” he said, adding that it was easier at this time. “We encourage them to socialise and move around with friends to absorb the positive change setting in,” Dr. Hussain said. He sees equal number of women and men at the OPD.

Most psychiatry hospitals in British colonies had large gardens with plants that had references from the Koran and the Bible, according to Dr. Hussian. “There was a belief that creating the setting of heaven could bring a person back from mental illnesses,” he said.

At Government Psychiatric Diseases Hospital, Srinagar, founding superintendent Dr. Erina Hoch, a Swiss psychiatrist, also focused on plantations around the Valley’s first mental health facility.

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