SEATTLE — In war-torn Mosul, gunfire, airstrikes and violence have become part of everyday life since the Iraqi military fell to the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014. While Iraqi government forces, alongside American battle aid, have regained control of Mosul, the effects of Islamic rule still permeate life. Some are left without food and water, and many are facing mental health issues as they try to cope with the trauma of living under the violent ISIS regime. Loss of family members, injuries from crossfire and building collapses and erratic violence has led to a mental health crisis in Mosul.
Mental Health and Psychological Support Director of the International Medical Corps in Iraq, Ibrahim Abou Khalil, shared a story reflecting the recurring tragedies that have led to the decline in Mosul’s mental health. Khalil recounted his recent visit to Mosul to the Huffington Post, where he witnessed a father walking into a medical center with two children, one in a stroller and the other in his arms. The family was an innocent victim of crossfire, and one child’s injuries were fatal. This father was among thousands of others in Mosul who were trying to cope with the aftermath of Islamic rule.
Psychologists agree that even those who did not live under ISIS control for a long period of time are still heavily impacted by the mental health crisis in Mosul. Due to the loss and encampment of family members, many families are separated, and the community’s system of trust has crumbled, heightening anxiety and tensions. Collectively, the past year’s traumatic events have caused symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Most of these cases consist of sleep problems and changes in behavior. However, there have also been some instances of suicide in displacement camps.
To combat the mental health crisis in Mosul, international organizations like Action Against Hunger have been offering mental health interventions to Iraqi citizens. The most pressing goal of Action Against Hunger is to teach the suffering populations how to manage their anxiety and anger, an effort the organization began in 2015. Placing mental health professionals in displacement camps like Khazer — the first destination for displaced people — has brought psychological treatment to more than 22,000 people in Mosul and neighboring villages.
Many of the people of Mosul who face mental health illnesses are children. Most are driven into anxiety or show symptoms of depression caused by fear of the violence that erupted outside their homes and in some cases, left them trapped by collapsed building structures. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is working closely with the children caught in the chaos of war and hoping to put their mental development back on track. MSF has collected data from group discussions with the children in order to build better psychological support systems for those facing mental health issues. Save the Children has also been an ally in building psychological treatment plans for children facing the mental health crisis in Mosul.
Following the lead of the international organizations, hairdressers and barbers in Mosul have come together to offer people from all over Iraq a safe place to share their stories. According to MSF, most of the people who were eager to see mental health professionals stressed that they just wanted someone to talk to. Beauty salons and barbershops across the city are offering one another support and finding solutions for one another’s war-caused troubles. Homegrown efforts such as this one have gained international attention for illustrating the need of mental health services and centers amidst Mosul’s rebuilding.
The mental health crisis in Mosul following ISIS control must be supported by foreign aid. As the Iraqi communities aim to redevelop and reestablish basic services and supplies like food and water, too many go without proper mental health treatment. The trauma inflicted on the people of Mosul must be addressed for the city, and country, to move forward.