Psychological trauma widespread in Iraq
Vermont Guardian, August 16, 2005
BAGHDAD — One of Iraq’s top psychiatrists says that more than two years of war, occupation and insurgency have turned the country into possibly the most psychologically damaged place in the world. “Psychologically, it may be the worst affected country in the world,” Dr. Harith Hassan, the former head of Baghdad’s Psychological Research Center, told Reuters news agency last week. “What’s going on is really a catastrophe from a psychological and a societal point of view.”
More than 70 percent of the private clients Hassan sees each week are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a severe anxiety condition, he said. Since the “shock and awe” of the 2003 U.S. bombing, Iraqis have had to deal with occupation by foreign forces, random and widespread death brought about by insurgents, and the growing effects of sectarian tensions.
Sectarian division is one of Hassan’s biggest concerns. Iraqis increasingly define themselves by classifications that were not common before, he explained. “You may have a Shiite father and a Sunni mother, and the children don’t really know how they are defined, but they are being forced to define themselves as one or the other,” he said. “Iraq hasn’t experienced these sorts of divisions before and it is creating terrible psychological trauma.”
With the help of a research center in the United Arab Emirates, Hassan has begun a preliminary study into the extent of PTSD. He is particularly concerned about its prevalence among women and children. If he can secure assistance from the World Health Organization, the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health and other groups, he hopes to conduct a nationwide study of the problem over the next 18 months.
“Things are getting worse and worse,” he said. “We need to understand what is happening to our national psyche and try to resolve it.”