Global Policy Forum

Mental Problems and Stress Disorders Increase

Integrated Regional Information Networks
October 25, 2007

Salah Hashimy, 14, has lost his parents, sisters and many friends since the US-led invasion in 2003; finally there was no one to look after him. He lacks education, love and support, a combination that, according to doctors, caused his mental health problems. "My memory is very weak but I cannot forget when I saw my sister being raped by militants until she died," Hashimy said.

Hashimy, who is being treated at Ibn-Rushd psychiatric hospital in Baghdad, has at last found a place to stay at Keeping Children Alive (KCA), a local NGO that takes care of children with mental disorders. However, after recent threats against the NGO, Salah might have to find another place to live if it is forced to close. "Salah is just one example of dozens of children and adults who come to our unit in this hospital and all of them have developed mental disorders after the war," said Shalan Aboudy, director of Ibn-Rushd psychiatric hospital. "All patients have similar histories. Some have lost relatives, children became orphans, women were raped, men lost their fiancés a couple of days before marriage," Aboudy added.

100 patients a day

According to Aboudy, about 100 patients a day visit the hospital since it is the only one with a psychiatric unit in the capital although it lacks supplies and medical staff. Long queues form daily outside its door. "The majority are women, fewer men and plenty of children," Aboudy noted.

In 2006, the hospital was supported by 14 specialists but now there are four as most have fled the country. "I come here at least once a week to find a solution for my daughter, who lost her fiancé in an explosion. She has since become hysterical. It has been longer than one year but she continues behaving hysterically," said Muhammad Sa'ad, 53, father of three.

The KCA said it has seen dozens of cases of children suffering from mental disorders caused by the impact of the war. "We have two psychologists in our main branch in Hadithiyah district assisting children in Baghdad but most of the cases are useless as parents don't return after the clinical diagnosis, as they do not accept that their children could be suffering from mental disorders caused by the war," Mayada Marouf, a spokesman for the KCA, said. "They take their children back home and never show up again, losing the opportunity to have them assisted by specialists. "Traditional families still believe that it is shameful to suffer from mental disorders and prefer to confine their children to their homes like useless persons," Marouf added.

KCA has registered about 1,800 children and 1,100 women who have sought psychological help since January 2007 but fewer than 6 percent have returned to continue the treatment after the first doctor's evaluation.

Fariz Mahmoud, a professor of neurology at Baghdad University, said the main reason for the increase in psychological disorders and distress among the population is fear. "People are scared of violence. They cannot [bear to] hear bullets, explosions and the news of a lost relative. Children cannot stand the idea of staying at home or living as displaced and more cases will be reported in the coming months," Mahmoud said. "Fear is like a cancer in some situations, it takes control over the body, reaching a stage when neither the doctor nor the medicines are able to reverse the results."

Before May 2007, Baghdad reportedly had at least six NGOs offering psychological help to people suffering from mental disorders but after continuous threats from insurgents they closed down.

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