An Unbearable Reality: the impact of war and displacement on children's mental health in Iraq
This report – the largest study to date of the impact of the current conflict into the mental health of Iraq’s children – shows how brutal fighting and years living under ISIS have left Mosul’s children with dangerous levels of psychological damage.
Experts found children are so deeply scarred by memories of extreme violence they are living in constant fear for their lives, unable to show emotions, and suffering from vivid ‘waking nightmares’. All children interviewed who had lived under ISIS rule displayed clear signs of a condition known as ‘toxic stress’. The condition is the most dangerous form of stress response where the mind is constantly in a fight or flight response. Left untreated, damage to the brain’s architecture caused by toxic stress can have a life-long impact on children’s mental and physical health, leading to increased instances of heart disease, depression, anxiety, diabetes and substance abuse.
With the right help, most children will eventually be able to rebuild a normal life. But Save the Children is warning that without an urgent boost to the provision of psychological support, Mosul’s children could be left with life-long mental and even physical damage. Psychological support for children and their parents is chronically underfunded, with programme needs for 2017 so far just 2% funded. The total UN Humanitarian Response Plan for this year has less than half the funding it needs.
Save the Children is calling for international donors to urgently and significantly increase support for mental health and psychosocial care, and the Government of Iraq to increase investment in training child psychologists and counsellors.