To mark Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, this month’s Hero of Health is a psychiatrist who not only treated his former prisoner of war patients but was also a friend and confidante to many.
Dr Kamaluddin Khan – widely known as ‘Kamal’ – was born in India in 1937 before moving to the UK where he trained in psychiatry, working as a Senior Registrar at Sefton General Hospital in Liverpool. It was there, in the mid-1970s, that Kamal was approached by Dr Dion Bell from LSTM, a tropical diseases consultant in charge of LSTM’s inpatient beds at Sefton. At the time these were mostly occupied by ex-Far East Prisoners of War (often known as ‘FEPOWs’) undergoing tropical diseases investigation. Dr Bell was concerned that many had significant psychiatric disturbances related to their imprisonment in Japanese camps during World War II, and asked Dr Khan to see some of these patients. Dr Khan agreed, and after assessing a small number was so concerned by their mental health that he offered to see all of the ex-POWs referred to the tropical unit.
The men had varying degrees of depression and anxiety, often associated with nightmares and flashbacks of their captivity experiences. This became known as FEPOW Psychiatric Syndrome and is now recognised as a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Despite taking a Consultant Psychiatrist position elsewhere, Dr Khan continued to regularly assess and treat the ex-Far East POWs, establishing a weekly FEPOW Clinic. He also began a major research investigation into the mental health of a randomised group of ex-Far East POWs, work which found that 40% of the POW group had significant psychiatric consequences of their captivity, and which was successfully written up for a PhD degree. This was all done on top of Dr Khan’s busy NHS caseload.
When he retired in 1995, many of Dr Khan’s POW patients were devastated at losing such a caring doctor and a good friend. One ex-POW said: “he was a wonderful man… I was able to tell him things that I couldn’t tell anyone. I went on a regular appointment, there were lots of FEPOWs there… and each time he was wonderful”.
Dr Khan's contribution to the Far East POW community was immense, and his unique research was of major academic value in our understanding of their experiences and outcomes.
LSTM has undertaken a wealth of Far East Prisoner of War research – it represents LSTM’s longest collaborative partnership - all of which has been condensed into the Captive Memories website. https://www.captivememories.org.uk/
Also, 10th-11th June sees the 2023 Researching FEPOW History Conference which is being held at LSTM and features speakers from around the world. Details and registration can be found here 2023 Conference | RFHG (fepowhistory.com)
A version of this article was originally published on the Captive Memories website following Dr Khan’s death in 2022. Obituary DR KAMALUDDIN (“KAMAL”) KHAN BSc, MB, BS, PhD, FRCPsych, DPM. The "FEPOW Psychiatrist" | Captive Memories