“I dream of a woman with blood all over her face.” Girl, aged 10-12
“ISIS killed women … then they threw their bodies into the garbage.” Girl, aged 10-12
“I have bad dreams of dead bodies.” Girl, aged 10-12
“ISIS climbed the wall of my house and went to my grandparents room to take them and they killed many of my family.” Boy, aged 10-12
“My cousin was offered a cigarette by ISIS and when he accepted they gave it to him and then killed him by gun-shot on the back.” Boy, aged 10-12
“My uncle was digging on the ground and then a plane went over him and dropped a rocket on him and then he exploded.” Boy, aged 10-12
New Research – Mosul’s children are traumatised
New research by our experts shows that children who escaped ISIS in Mosul, Iraq, are showing clear signs of ‘toxic stress’.
This condition is the most dangerous form of stress response. It means that these children’s minds are in a fight or flight response all the time.
Our experts found that the children are deeply scarred by memories of extreme violence, and live in constant fear for their lives. Many are unable to show emotions, and suffer from vivid ‘waking nightmares’.
These dangerous levels of psychological damage could affect them for the rest of their lives.
Left untreated, toxic stress can have a life-long impact, leading to increased instances of heart disease, depression, anxiety, diabetes and substance abuse.
What caused this ‘toxic stress’?
The loss of loved ones was the biggest cause of distress. 90% of the children that they had lost at least one family member – either because the family member had died, been abducted or separated from them during their escape.
Children saw their family members killed in front of them. They saw dead bodies and blood in the streets, and bombs destroying their homes.
Some children told us that they’d seen family members shot by snipers, blown up by landmines or hit by explosive weapons as they fled they fled Mosul.
What is it like?
Most of the children – and 78% of girls – said they had nightmares or were unable to sleep.
Many mentioned being afraid of an unidentified “thing”, “person” or “monster”. Even during the day, many were haunted by mental images of traumatic experiences and nightmares.
Nearly all the children our experts spoke to were unable to play. Many were slow to understand instructions and most showed ‘robotic’ behaviour.
Dr Marcia Brophy, our Senior Mental Health Adviser for the Middle East, said: “They rarely even smiled. It was as though they had lost the ability to be children.”
Even in the relative safety of the camp, some children continued to live in terror that ISIS might still attack them.
What support is there?
Many of these children’s parents are themselves profoundly affected and unable to support and comfort their children.
Domestic violence has increased in the camp as a result. And when asked to identify ongoing sources of anger and sadness, more than 85% of the children said being beaten, or seeing others beaten.
But psychological support for parents is not seen as a funding priority. So far, just 2% of the programme needs for 2017 have been funded. The total UN Humanitarian Response Plan for this year has less than half the funding it needs.
International donors must urgently and significantly increase support for mental health and psychosocial care. The Government of Iraq must invest more in training child psychologists and counsellors.
Ana Locsin, our Iraq Country Director, said: “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.”
But there is hope. With the right help, most children will eventually be able to rebuild a normal life.