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Relentless Afghan Conflict Leaves Traumatized Generation

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Among them are some of the unseen victims of the war in Afghanistan: a generation of people mentally damaged by their exposure to incessant conflict. The accumulation of psychological problems could begin to undermine national reconstruction

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JL A. (286)
Sunday November 18, 2012, 6:25 am
Relentless Afghan conflict leaves traumatized generation

Fri, 16 Nov 2012 08:57 GMT

Source: reuters // Reuters

Ghazia Sadid, 26, a patient suffering from depression, speaks during an interview with Reuters at a mental hospital in Kabul November 14, 2012. Picture taken November 14, 2012. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

By Daniel Magnowski and Mirwais Harooni

KABUL, Nov 16 (Reuters) - On a low bed in a quiet, all-female hospital ward, a depressed Afghan teenager huddles silently under blankets, her mother close by. In a nearby room are men suffering from schizophrenia, delusions of persecution and power, anxiety and panic disorders.

Among them are some of the unseen victims of the war in Afghanistan: a generation of people mentally damaged by their exposure to incessant conflict.

The accumulation of psychological problems could begin to undermine national reconstruction and development, say health workers at the country's only facility for treating mental illness.

Ghazia Sadid, a 26-year-old mother, endured depression for years after a family member was killed in a bomb attack, and she fled her home in fear of more violence.

"I still hear the sounds of explosions. I still remember the fighting, but since I have come here my behaviour has changed," she said, speaking at the Kabul Mental Health Hospital, a green-walled building on the outskirts of the city.

"I was totally lost and my life was over. After two years of treatment, now I love my children," she said. "I loved them then too, but in my imagination I had done something wrong."

The concept of mental illness is alien to many in Afghanistan, where the public health system, like much of the country's infrastructure, has been wrecked by decades of war.

Frequently, people suffering psychological disorders are thought by their families to be under the influence of malign spirits, or showing symptoms of a physical ailment.

The Kabul hospital, which has 60 beds for in-patients and another 40 in a separate facility for drug addicts, is run by the government in partnership with U.S.-based nonprofit group the International Medical Corps. It gets funding from the European Union.

Psychologists working there say children who have known nothing but fighting since the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban government more than a decade ago are especially vulnerable.

"The generation born after 2001 when the international community entered Afghanistan might be 10, 11 year olds now, and I've been seeing 11 year olds and 10 year olds nowadays who are presenting with so many mental health problems: nightmares, depression, anxiety, incontinence," said Mohammad Zaman Rajabi, clinical psychology advisor at the hospital.

Men, women and children come for treatment with drugs, counselling, group therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.


"If, in a family, there are problems every day it's obvious that the family members are not well and cannot serve each other properly," said Taiba Alkazai, a psychologist at the hospital.

"In the same way, if there is fighting in a country then its people won't be happy."

The fear of suicide bomb attacks, roadside bombs, and the overall level of violence in Afghanistan - of which civilians bear the brunt, with the number killed rising in 2011 for the fifth straight year to more than 3,000, according to the United Nations - can lead to anxiety, panic and obsession.

"The physical aspects of war (last) for a limited time, but the psychological aspects of the war extend for many years. Day by day the mental health problems caused by the war are increasing," said consultant psychiatrist Said Najib Jawed.

Just as socially damaging is the risk of a generation for whom violence has become the norm.

"One of the examples I always give is that when you talk to an Afghan boy, you can easily get into a physical fight because they just wait for it, they don't know any other ways of dealing with a problem than fighting," Rajabi said.

"All these things will lead to a generation of people who are not very healthy mentally, and this will affect everything in the country: education, relationships, families, generally the development of the country." (Editing by Robert Birsel)

jan b. (5)
Monday November 19, 2012, 12:56 pm
A journalist who spent years in Afganistan said the women are scroooed no matter who is in charge.

. (0)
Monday November 19, 2012, 2:26 pm
I so wish Obama did not screw us into being there for years to come. That country has been a horror for decades, and our presence does not mean a darn thing.

Stella Gamboni (17)
Monday November 19, 2012, 7:40 pm
Northern Ireland, The Balkans, Armenia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Zaire, Somalia, Iraq -- the same story keeps repeating (and that's just in the last 50 or so years).

JL A. (286)
Monday November 19, 2012, 7:58 pm
All too true Stella: "War is not healthy for children and other living things." Seems that many have not learned from history and thus were doomed to repeat it.

Michael Kirkby (89)
Tuesday November 20, 2012, 6:35 am
The only people who profit from war are the economists; the bankers; the Hedge Fund managers and the large Corporations. War is always about money and power and control of resources - human or otherwise. There are huge ore deposits in the mountains. Iraq wasn't about cheap oil at least for American markets or democracy; it was the can opener used to pry open the Middle East and Arab markets so guys like Rumsfeld and his pals could rake in huge profits and redefine the politics to their benefit. The Arab Spring has somewhat of a similar agenda although I surmise the real agenda is to create a Sunni stronghold to counter balance Iran.

Gloria picchetti (302)
Tuesday November 20, 2012, 6:47 am
It's not the first generation or the last to be traumatized in Afganistan. No one ever wins there. We never should have let #43 start a war there. We lost lives & money & no one won.

JL A. (286)
Tuesday November 20, 2012, 9:47 am
Your analyses of the power and profit dynamics of wars are intriguing Michael--and history may well prove correct. You cannot currently send a star to Michael because you have done so within the last week.
You cannot currently send a star to Gloria because you have done so within the last week.

Kit B. (276)
Tuesday November 20, 2012, 12:29 pm

Maybe tonight this will be over, for now.

JL A. (286)
Tuesday November 20, 2012, 12:53 pm
I hope you're right Kit.

Lois Jordan (60)
Tuesday November 20, 2012, 2:46 pm
Noted. Yes, I agree that Afghanistan is all about the money that could be made off the invasion. While I'm sure there were some who were considering the political and global profiting, the War Machine always profits and the innocent always pay the most. When all is said and done, Pres. Obama sent in a small team to finally "get" binLaden.....Dumbya could've done the same a decade ago, rather than cause so much pain to so many. History must show him as the worst Pres. of GOP "talking points" can ever rewrite the facts.

JL A. (286)
Tuesday November 20, 2012, 3:27 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Lois because you have done so within the last week.

Lindsay Kemp (1)
Tuesday November 20, 2012, 4:17 pm

greenplanet e. (157)
Tuesday November 20, 2012, 5:45 pm
Terrible for them.

JL A. (286)
Tuesday November 20, 2012, 5:50 pm
It is indeed terrible greenplanet.

Sam E M. (0)
Wednesday November 21, 2012, 5:21 am
My heard bleeds for these people. It's so frustrating to look on and know there's nothing we can do to permanently help those who wish for peace, freedom and happiness.

Birgitta S. (206)
Wednesday November 21, 2012, 7:19 am
Horrified for these Humans

Rita White (1)
Wednesday November 21, 2012, 8:32 am
noted, thanks

JL A. (286)
Wednesday November 21, 2012, 1:08 pm
I like your alliterative phrase Bee: You cannot currently send a star to Bee because you have done so within the last week.
You are welcome Rita.

Gloria H. (88)
Wednesday November 21, 2012, 7:48 pm
Not only people, but their homes, businesses, livestock and land is destroyed by war. Years later, people still lose lives and limbs in landmines. So who really is the winner? What were the spoils of war? Did we gain slaves, land, treasure? It used to be something tangible that could be hauled home and shown off. We surely didn't gain respect.

JL A. (286)
Wednesday November 21, 2012, 7:51 pm
Important questions deserving of serious answers Gloria (a star headed your way). Some companies made money from the government. Any other gains anyone knows of out there?

Rose Becke (293)
Thursday November 22, 2012, 1:49 pm
And it will continue much to my sadness

JL A. (286)
Thursday November 22, 2012, 2:48 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Rose because you have done so within the last week.

Herbert E. (10)
Friday November 23, 2012, 6:36 am
I have an address here :
and in my humble opinion - they should kick foreign occupiers out. If they can ...

jo M. (3)
Friday November 23, 2012, 3:28 pm
Some foreign occupiers are a far sight better than the Taliban.

Adam I. (25)
Saturday November 24, 2012, 4:40 am
Obviously; how much can an average human psyche take?!

JL A. (286)
Saturday November 24, 2012, 7:21 am
You cannot currently send a star to Adam because you have done so within the last week.

M B. (64)
Saturday November 24, 2012, 2:09 pm
war kills - there is no winner.

Sharon W. (4)
Saturday December 1, 2012, 4:20 pm
I am so sorry for the people in Afghanistan.. some donīt even know how peace feels like- they were born in war and will perhaps even die in war.

JL A. (286)
Saturday December 1, 2012, 5:22 pm
Too true Sharon. You cannot currently send a star to Sharon because you have done so within the last week.
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