Syrian Refugees and internally displaced persons from the Sinjar Mountains and Tal Afar present in Dohuk (Northern Iraq) suffer from mental health disorders resulting from the severe trauma they experienced. Among them, women and children are particularly affected and need specific attention.
Children recruited and brainwashed by the so-called Islamic State in particular need to be identified and treated as a first step to their reintegration in the community. Without urgent specific care, a whole generation will suffer from debilitating complications due to trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.
A large number of women are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence and cannot access specific care due to trauma, taboo and fear of reprisals. Throughout Northern Iraq, our teams met women released by the so-called Islamic State who were rejected or mistreated by their relatives, who could not bear to acknowledge what they had endured in detention.
Present in the camps around Dohuk since 2016 to offer primary and reproductive healthcare services, we are now broadening our collaboration with the local Department of Health to include specialized psychological and psychiatric support. With a particular focus on the needs of children, adolescents and women, we are supporting Azadi Hospital and the Mental Healthcare Centre for Children and Adolescents, which are coping with a growing caseload with limited human and financial resources and shortages of medications.
After completing rehabilitation works in both facilities, we hired medical and paramedical staff and trained them on how to deal with patients who were exposed to trauma or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. We also reinforced protocols for screening and treatment of survivors of gender based violence.
In our pluri-disciplinary consultations, patients receive different services according to the severity of their needs. Three options are available: follow-up as out-patient, enrolment in our program at the day hospital to maintain links with family and ensure relatives play an active role in the therapy, and, for severe and acute cases, short-term in-patient treatment.
Being the only INGO to provide specialized mental health services, a key part of our work is to break the taboo around these services and inform the population of the urgency to identify and address mental health needs. In order to disseminate information, screen potential patients and provide convenient care, we also deploy mobile units in the surrounding camps. These units include psychiatrists, psychotherapists and social workers who speak the local languages.
We pay particular attention to the mental well-being of our staff, many of whom have experienced or witnessed distressing situation, and we ensure they receive adequate support through self-care sessions.