The Dallas Morning News
Trauma victims overwhelm mental health facilities
KHAZER, Iraq — Sixyear-old Mustafa suffers nightmares, cries at the sound of airplanes and occasionally wets himself, symptoms that worsened last year when an explosion in Mosul killed his cousin and wounded his father before his eyes.
He was a young witness to more than two years of Islamic State rule and months of heavy fighting aimed at driving the extremists from Iraq’s largest city. Like countless Iraqis, he shows symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, an epidemic caused by years of war that is overwhelming the country’s limited mental health services.
“He wants me to always stay with him. He is afraid, he is scared of loud noises. Even when the children speak loudly he becomes scared,” Intisar Jadan Sultan, Mustafa’s mother, said at the Khazer camp for displaced people.
Intisar said Mustafa’s problems started when the family had to flee Zumar, their hometown, three years ago, but worsened considerably when the fighting started in Mosul last November.
Mental health professionals say many displaced Mosul residents experience nightmares, anxiety, depression, aggression and irritability, all signs of PTSD, a condition that may develop as a result of exposure to serious violence.
“The rate of the population in Mosul that has been affected during this war, it must be double than in other wars,” said Dr. Karzan Jalal Shah, director of the Irbil Psychiatric Hospital. “As a result of living under IS rule for two years, not only the war, but the killings, beheadings, cutting off of hands in front of people, everyone will have some kind of psychological symptoms.”
Mustafa sees the psychiatrist regularly, and attending kindergarten has helped. He plays with the other kids and is visibly happy in their company. His mother says he is steadily improving, but she still needs to stay with him all morning to calm him.
“This kind of stress has a negative impact on future mental health,” Shah said. “There is no adequate mental health support in Iraq. We expect to see higher rates of suicide and selfharm, especially among children.”