(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Children of Mosul City in the war-torn Iraq have been left with toxic stress and nightmares, according to a new research by Save the Children.
The humanitarian group carried out a focus group with 65 children in a displacement camp south of Mosul and results showed that all of them displayed signs of 'toxic stress' - the most dangerous stress response. A total of 90 per cent of the kids have lost loved ones in the Mosul conflict and suffer from nightmares.
Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, has been in a volatile state since the Daesh seized the city in 2014. Military operations have been ongoing since then. The United Nations has reported in April that nearly half a million people have fled Mosul since the start of the military intervention.
The aim of the research by Save the Children was to show the effects the conflict has left behind on the mental health of the children - many of whom have witnessed their family members being killed in front of them.
A child who took part in the focus group, aged between 10-12, said: "My cousin was offered a cigarette by Isis and when he accepted they gave it to him and then killed him by gunshot on the back."
"Everything was destroyed, and there were dead bodies around, and people were crying and bleeding," said a girl, aged 13-15.
One boy said: "My uncle was digging on the ground and then a plane went over him and dropped a rocket on him and then he exploded." And another boy said that he can see 'monsters' in front of him or dead bodies in the streets.
Children told the charity that they witnessed family members killed in front of them, dead bodies and blood in the streets and bombs destroying their homes. Others shared stories of family members shot by snipers, blown up by landmines or hit by explosive weapons as they fled. The majority of children - 78 per cent of girls - said they had nightmares or were unable to sleep.
Children also mentioned fear of an unidentified "thing", "person" or "monster". Their mental images of traumatic experiences, and subsequent nightmares, appear to be so vivid they are haunted by them during the day. Almost all children the charity spoke to were slow to understand instructions and most showed 'robotic' behaviour, unable to play or show emotion.
Save Children calls for quick action
Humanitarian group Save the Children has requested international donors to urgently increase support for mental health and psychosocial care for the children of Mosul. They are also asking the Government of Iraq to increase investment in training child psychologists and counsellors.
If Mosul's children's toxic stress is left untreated, it can cause damage to the brain's architecture - leaving a life-long impact on the children's mental and physical health. This ultimately leads to increased instances of heart disease, depression, anxiety, diabetes and substance abuse.
"What was striking was how introverted and withdrawn children have become. They rarely even smiled. It was as though they had lost the ability to be children," Dr Marcia Brophy, Save the Children's Senior Mental Health Adviser for the Middle East, said.
"When we asked them what they liked about themselves, children often said things like 'I'm quiet', 'I stay in a safe place' or 'I obey orders'. Their time under Isis, and making a life-or-death escape, has taken a truly terrible toll.
"These children are not going to heal in weeks, or even months. They'll need support for years to come."
Support from parents and family is vital to help children cope with extreme stress, yet the war has ripped many families apart, the charity reported.
85% say they're beaten
Though, many parents are themselves psychologically affected by their experiences and are unable to provide comfort to their children. Domestic violence has increased in the camp as a result, with more than 85 per cent of children identifying being beaten - or seeing others beaten - as a major source of ongoing anger and sadness.
Save the Children said that psychological support for children and their parents is chronically underfunded, with programme needs for 2017 so far just 2 per cent funded. The total UN Humanitarian Response Plan for this year has less than half the funding it needs.
"Children escaping Mosul have gone through horror piled upon horror. They have been starved and abused inside the city. Explosive weapons have been dropped in narrow streets by all sides with little regard to their impact. But the impact on children is clear: even if they made it out alive they have been left scarred and broken. And right now, that's what Mosul's future looks like," said Ana Locsin, Save the Children's Iraq Country Director.
"Life-saving aid like shelter, food and water are crucial in this crisis - but to help children recover and rebuild after their ordeals psychological support must be considered a priority. The world must do more to repair the damage."
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