Over 22,000 people have benefitted from psychosocial first aid intervention in camps north of Mosul, run by Action Against Hunger.

Mental Health on the Front line in Mosul

Over 22,000 people have benefitted from psychosocial first aid intervention in camps north of Mosul, run by Action Against Hunger. 

By Action Against Hunger

May 14 2018

For Mental Health Awareness Week, we are shining a light on the vital work Action Against Hunger is Doing to help Vulnerable Men, Women and Children with psychosocial support. This article focuses on our approach to mental health first aid in Iraq.

Psychological Support – a key aspect of our response in Iraq 

Over a decade of political and social upheaval in Iraq has left thousands of men, women and children in desperate need of humanitarian aid. Exposed to disease and with inadequate access to clean water or sufficient food, the psychological toll of this conflict might often seem to be overlooked. However, as Malourène Cordier, Emergency Coordinator in Iraq, explains, psychosocial support is a key element of Action Against Hunger’s crisis response. “People fleeing Mosul and its surroundings arrive in the camps in a state of great distress and it is important to reassure them as soon as they arrive.”  

Hundreds of communities have been displaced and separated by this conflict. Lisa Peyre, Head of Action Against Hunger’s Mental Health Department in Iraq explains how this has an impact both on an individual and on a collective level. “As individuals, they face many signs of distress, while at a community level; there is a big sense of distrust between people because they are suspicious that anybody could be a member of ISIS”.  

Psychosocial support is an extremely important component of our programmes in Iraq because the level of suffering of the population is so high. The psychosocial assessment teams in Zelikan and Khazir camps have reported more than 70% of respondents described themselves as ‘in great suffering’. Refugees in the camps experience symptoms such as sleep and behaviour disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts.  

What psychological support do we offer?  

 “We focus on three kinds of activities,” said Lisa Peyre. “Firstly, we provide individual psychological support for people with high level of distress, in which our psychologists are following individuals for 7 to 8 sessions. Secondly, we have psychosocial group support, which is organised into groups of adults, teenage and children. Thirdly, we develop programmes for pregnant, lactating women and with children under 2, to reinforce the mother – child relationship and to prevent the symptoms of malnutrition from developing”. 

12-year-old Hadi attends a group therapy session run with other children who have a shared experience of fleeing her village of Bawiza, four kilometres from Mosul. She said, “I was very sad when we had to leave our house. I started to isolate myself. I did not want to talk; I did not want to eat or to do anything. Now, we draw and play to feel better and share our feelings. When I get anxious now, I breathe deeply and pray. I have found a mechanism to feel better”.  

Hadi is one of over 22,000 people who have benefitted from psychosocial first aid intervention in camps north of Mosul, run by Action Against Hunger. 

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Images: Lys Arango and Tom Pilston for Action Against Hunger