(Formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Children’s mental health affected by insecurity, say specialists

[Iraq] Poverty in Iraq increased as children are suffering with hungry. [Date picture taken: 11/11/2004]
Afif Sarhan/IRIN

The Association of Psychologists of Iraq (API) has released a report stating that the US-led invasion and occupation of the country have greatly affected the psychological development of many Iraqi children.

“Children in Iraq are seriously suffering psychologically with all the insecurity, especially with the fear of kidnapping and explosions,” said API spokesman Maruan Abdullah. “In some cases, they’re found to be suffering extreme stress.”

More than 1,000 children were interviewed countrywide over the past four months for the study, the findings of which were released on 5 February.

According to Abdullah, the survey was undertaken after a noticeable increase in the number of children seeking psychological counselling, many of whom were found to have learning difficulties.

“It was incredible how strong the results were,” said Abdullah. “The only things they have on their minds are guns, bullets, death and a fear of the US occupation.”

Of the children examined, 92 percent were found to have learning impediments, largely attributable to the current climate of fear and insecurity.

“The fear of kidnapping has been the main reason for learning deficiencies, especially among children whose parents are government employees or high-ranking professionals like doctors and teachers,” Abdullah noted.

“About 50 of them are in a critical state of fear that could cause mental retardation if it goes untreated,” he added.

The API further found that inaccurate perceptions of psychological services served to compound the problem.

“Many Iraqis believe that psychologists treat crazy people,” Abdullah said. “For this reason, they don’t bring their children in for treatment.”

Last July, the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) developed a programme to help children suffering from the trauma of war. The project was frozen a couple months later, however, due to a shortage of funding.

“Previous studies of children confirmed such psychological effects,” said IRCS spokeswoman Ferdous al-Abadi. “But, unfortunately, we couldn’t continue with studies due to a lack of money and the need to give preference to displacement emergencies.”

The API has urged the international community to help establish centres specialised in child psychology and programmes devoted to mental health.

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