Background: An extensive body of research exists looking at the level of psychological distress in populations affected by political conflict. Recommended response to psychological distress in humanitarian crises is still based on frameworks for interventions developed in western/European contexts including psychological first aid, counselling and group therapy. While there is growing, but limited, evidence that culturally modified interventions can lead to reduction in symptoms of psychological distress in conflict affected populations, there is a need to understand mental health help-seeking behaviour and mental health service needs from the perspective of affected communities.
Methods: This study employed a qualitative exploratory research design based on principles of grounded theory. A combination of convenience and snowball sampling was used to recruit 186 adults from the general population to 20 focus group discussions; 95 men, median age 40 years, interquartile range (IQR): 27-48 years and 91 women, median age 40 years IQR: 32-50 years. Trained Kashmiri facilitators used a semi-structured interview guide to ascertain community perceptions on mental illness, help-seeking and service needs from the perspective of communities in the Kashmir Valley. Content analysis of transcripts resulted in the identification of seven overarching themes.
Results: Common locally recognized symptoms of psychological distress were synonymous with symptoms listed in the Hopkins Symptoms Checklist (HSCL-25) and the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire (HTQ). Protracted political insecurity was highlighted as a major perceived cause of psychological distress in communities. Mental health help-seeking included traditional/spiritual healers in combination with practitioners of western medicine, with access highlighted as the main barrier. Divergent views were expressed on the effectiveness of treatment received. Participants' expressed the need for investment in mental health literacy to improve the community's capacity to recognize and support those suffering from psychological distress.
Conclusions: Our findings demonstrate the universality of symptoms of psychological distress whilst simultaneously highlighting the importance of recognizing the cultural, spiritual and contextual framework within which psychological distress is understood and manifest. Co-constructed models of community based mental health services are needed.
Keywords: Access; Community perspective; Exploratory methodologies; Health service needs; Kashmir; Mental health; Psychological distress; Qualitative.
© The Author(s). 2019.