‘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.