‘Scarred and broken’: children escaping Isis in Mosul suffer waking nightmares


‘Scarred and broken’: children escaping Isis in Mosul suffer waking nightmares:

Experts report that the children are so affected by witnessing extreme violence that they have symptoms of “toxic stress” – a severe form of psychological trauma that can cause lifelong damage.

The research, by Save the Children, was based on discussions with 65 children who had escaped to the Hammam al-Alil camp for displaced persons, south of the battered city.

All of the children interviewed by the charity’s workers displayed signs of toxic stress, 90% had suffered the loss of a loved one, and the majority had nightmares. Almost all were slow to understand instructions and displayed “robotic” behaviour, unable to play or show emotion.


Toxic stress is the most dangerous form of stress response, where the mind is constantly in fight or flight mode. Left untreated, it can damage the brain’s architecture and have a lifelong impact on mental and physical health, leading to heart disease, depression, anxiety, diabetes and substance abuse.

The charity is calling on international donors to increase support for mental health and psychosocial care and for the Iraqi government to increase investment in training child psychologist and counsellors. Save the Children said psychological support for children and their parents is chronically underfunded, with programmes for 2017 so far just 2% funded.


Isis has left an entire

Isis has left an entire generation of children suffering from ‘waking nightmares’

“What was striking was how introverted and withdrawn children have become.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,” said Dr Marcia Brophy, Save the Children’s senior mental health adviser for the Middle East of her research.

Every family has experienced the loss of their home, and 90 per cent of children interviewed for a new report from Save the Children have lost loved ones since Isis swept across a third of Iraq from neighbouring Syria in 2014.


The psychological damage is severe, and charities are warning a future risk of stigma and abuse – as well as arbitrary detainment by coalition forces – lies ahead.

While every parent will say they took their children out of school during the Isis occupation, where curricula reflected the extremist ideology, around half were probably forced to keep their children enrolled, said Rob Williams, CEO of WarChild UK.

“We are worried that now Isis is gone these kids will face being ostracised or worse by their communities. It’s like France at the end of the Second World War.

Donor governments have been slow to respond to the UN’s 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan for the region, which only has 43 per cent of the necessary funding to implement any help at all – let alone mental health assistance.