Violence distressing mental state of population

Bullets and bombs are killing thousands of civilians every month in Iraq while the psychological impact of the ongoing violence is affecting the mental health of millions and is a major cause for concern for future generations, psychologists say.

In a privately funded study entitled ‘Psychological effects of war on Iraqis’, the Association of Iraqi Psychologists (AIP) said out of 2,000 people interviewed in all 18 Iraqi provinces, 92 percent said they feared being killed in an explosion.

Some 60 percent of those interviewed said the level of violence had caused them to have panic attacks, which prevented them from going out because they feared they would be the next victims.

“It is a very serious result because of the ongoing violence in Iraq. These psychological symptoms of the population could bring disastrous consequences to their present and future lives. Some parents might change their behaviour towards their children and vice-versa,” Ala’a al-Sahaddi, vice-president of IPA, said.

''Their minds have been changed and they are like robots moving in response to explosions, bombs and violence.''

Parents prevent their children from going to school or even from playing on the doorsteps of their houses. Some people might see this as a normal reaction to violence but if you go deeper, you will discover that there is much more to it. Their minds have been changed and they are like robots moving in response to explosions, bombs and violence,” al-Sahaddi added.

For the study, which was released on 23 January and done without government support, psychologists chose families from different districts of the capital and other main cities of Iraq.

On 16 January, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) issued a report that said just over 34,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in 2006 and nearly 37,000 wounded. The numbers of those in urgent need of psychological help as a result of the loss of family members or fear has not been quantified, but is expected to be very high.

“Some of these people urgently needed a therapy programme with a psychologist but unfortunately most of them don’t even know what we are. And when you speak about bombs and explosions, they automatically change their faces. Instead of smiling, they look scared,” al-Sahaddi said.

Families who have been victims of explosions and suicide bombers have changed their lives and now live in constant fear, sometimes with serious depression.

''I don’t allow my two daughters to go out anymore, even to buy bread. I prefer to go and buy it myself. I cannot lose more children.''

“I lost a husband, a son and a son-in-law in one explosion last year. They were looking for a job and someone blew himself up near them. I could not even recover their bodies because they were blown to pieces,” said Um Youssef, a 48-year-old mother of three.

“I don’t allow my two daughters to go out anymore, even to buy bread. I prefer to go and buy it myself. I cannot lose more children. What we eat today is given by my brother, neighbours and with the little income I get from washing other peoples’ clothes,” Um Youssef added.

Um Youssef said that she stopped watching news on television because it was seriously affecting her health. “Every time I saw another explosion on the news I got shocked, trembled and could not sleep. I have heart problems and cannot stand this suffering anymore,” she said.

as/ar/ed