A country at war needs acute medical care and lots of medical supplies for its wounded citizens and the affected refugees it has taken in. While the Kurdish government does its best to give all persons in need adequate care, one of the most significant medical issues of a war-torn country, mental disorders in war veterans, is still not getting enough attention.
The military struggle of the Kurdish Peshmerga or “those who face death,” did not start three years ago with the war against the Islamic State (IS). It began nearly one hundred years ago when Kurds were forced to defend themselves against the newly created states in the Middle East.
Thus, most Kurds know the consequences of war, both physical and psychological. However, up to this date, the mental issues most Kurdish war veterans face are being neglected because of the stigma and social taboo surrounding them. But, for people who have seen unimaginable brutalities, who have literally “faced death,” it is not just important, it is extremely vital to get the necessary treatment they need.
Studies conducted in the United States and the European Union reveal many veterans suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) show signs of increased aggressiveness. For some, they demonstrate an even higher risk of suicidal thoughts. Furthermore, unprocessed trauma can affect children and grandchildren of the parties concerned. Recent research suggests untreated psychological trauma can even alter genes, leaving future generations more prone to clinical depression.
An estimation by the US Department of Veterans Affairs says around 20 percent of veterans from the Iraq War, and almost 30 percent of veterans from the Vietnam War suffer from PTSD. Several German war veterans suffering from the mental disorder have risen tenfold between 2004 and 2013, a decade of increased German military involvement around the world. Due to the decades-long war in Kurdistan, but especially due to the extremely brutal and barbaric actions of IS, the problems in the Kurdish Armed Forces may be similar, if not even higher.
After the unimaginable genocide against the Kurdish Yezidi (Ezidi) community, starting in 2014 and lasting until today, we have seen similar mental issues in traumatized civilians. Some of these victims were not even able to talk again. Luckily, Kurdistan received global help, for example from the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg, which took in many Ezidi women for psychological treatment. Support for those traumatized people also came from domestic organizations like the SEED Foundation, which set up a refugee camp specialized in such mental treatment to reintegrate traumatized people into society.
After establishing the Center for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Services at the University of Koya in Kurdistan, the SEED Foundation recently launched a Psychosocial Support Services (PSS) Training Program. The program enables individuals to help people with mental disorders during the healing process. Also, the recent establishment of a psychological training center at the University of Duhok, funded by the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg, is an essential step in the right direction.
These necessary measures enabling the treatment of traumatized civilians must be imitated and used for Kurdish military personnel as well. Patients could be treated by professionally trained members of their families, clans, or communities – by people they trust – to overcome social taboos and stigmas. Above that, there is a need for public awareness campaigns to help people understand Peshmerga veterans suffering from PTSD are not “crazy” or “mad,” but they indeed suffer from hidden war injuries.
Not only would such actions help traumatized individuals, but they would also decrease Kurdistan’s highly problematic domestic violence issues caused by such diseases. Addressing PTSD would also lay the foundation for a healthier, happier, and stronger nation which understands it needs to help citizens not only physically, but also mentally.
Polla Garmiany is a political advisor based in the European Union.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan24.
Edited by Delovan Barwari