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us troops, alcohol abuse, depression
Jacob Silberberg/AP

Iraqi Children Suffer From PTSD

August 26, 2008 11:54 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Children in Iraq are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder just like returning U.S. soldiers, and Iraq has been been slow to confront the growing problem.

Iraq Opens Clinic for Children

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This month, Iraq will be opening its first clinic for children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. While PTSD among troops is a growing problem in the United States, the children living in the war zone can be overlooked.

According to NPR, “Iraq children also have been the victims of kidnapping, torture and rape.” The Web site Iraqbodycount.org says that in 2007 alone about 650 children were killed in Iraq.

Dr. Haider Maliki, a psychiatrist, claims that about 15 percent of Iraqi children show signs of PTSD. Maliki asserts that these children could turn violent, lose interest in schoolwork or become involved with drugs and alcohol.

However, according to Maliki, many families do not seek help fearing humiliation or dishonor. “Especially in children, especially in the female, any psychological problem is a stigma,” Maliki says. “They deny the disease, but when we examine the child, we discover many problems.”

But Iraq doesn’t have the medical services to adequately deal with the number of child PTSD cases, according to Maliki. For example, even he lacks the proper training to serve as a child psychiatrist. NPR writes that, “Iraq’s notoriously inept and corrupt Ministry of Health has provided little help up until now, Maliki says.”

Background: The psychological challenges of warfare

A recent study found that National Guard and Reserve troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan were more likely to develop drinking problems after returning home.

Citing an inadequate level of preparation and training to deal with combat stress, the study found that a large number of soldiers developed “binge drinking” habits following their return home.

Unable to cope with memories of violence and loss witnessed while they were deployed, many soldiers turn to alcohol and drugs to ease their pain. Earlier studies have found a direct correlation between individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which affects many returning soldiers to at least some degree, and substance abuse.

Part of the Millennium Cohort Study, an expansive series of examinations into the long-term health effects of military life and combat launched in 2001, the recent study marks another health problem for returning soldiers to overcome.

Although the study focused on the obstacles faced by National Guard and Reserve soldiers, the list of post-traumatic challenges faced by all returning service men and women has continued to grow since the invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.

Much attention has centered on post-traumatic stress disorder complications, including depression, substance abuse, excessive anger and a general difficulty readapting to civilian life.

While several organizations have launched efforts to help veterans deal with the stress of returning from combat, some have suggested that they fall short of dealing with what could turn into a “tsunami” of emotional challenges and homelessness. Citing a study that found that one in four homeless people are veterans, Jon Soltz points to what he sees as an inadequate approach to soldiers seeking mental help. Soltz argues that narrow definitions of PTSD keep many veterans from receiving the help that they need.
These challenges, resulting in more than 22,000 returned soldiers seeking help on a suicide hotline, have stretched the military’s mental health services to the limit.

Since 2001, government and military officials have strained to understand how they can properly tend to the physical and emotional needs of those returning from a war zone. In addition to the more traditional approaches of counseling and support groups, researchers have also developed a digital means of dealing with combat stress by creating a virtual experience to recreate the pressure of the war zone experience.

Recreating the sights and sounds of the environment that brought them to seek help in the first place, the digital experience allows returning soldiers to confront and assess traumatic events.

Related Topics: The emotional cost of war

Reference: Millennium Cohort Study

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