Tuesday, September 08, 2009

WWB: suicides

What War Brings: suicides

We have heard of the increase in suicide rates among Iraq war veterans and Afghanistan war veterans, but I am focusing on what war brings to civilians in this series. For that same reason, I am not going to cover suicide bombers – in my eyes; they are combatants – although some of them have been forced into being suicide bombers. And there are children recruited into being suicide bombers also, but I am not clear that they are true suicides or child abuse victims or both.

I am going to focus on suicides among the civilian population that is a direct result of war coming to their country. And, frankly, there is not a lot of information available.

In Iraq, I have only heard of one story from a friend of mine. A woman had lost her husband to a US shooting at a checkpoint, and a few months later, she committed suicide. She left behind two small children.

In Afghanistan, there are reports of women who have set themselves on fire in suicide attempts, but it is not clear if that is the direct (or even indirect) result of war.

There is a bit more evidence of prisoners in US-run overseas prison committing suicide, with the most recent report from Guantanamo in June 2009.

Officials Report Suicide of Guantánamo Detainee

A Yemeni detainee at Guantánamo Bay who had been on a long hunger strike apparently committed suicide late Monday, military officials said Tuesday. The death was the first at the prison since President Obama took office, and detainees’ lawyers said it would focus new attention on conditions at the detention camp. The detainee, 31, was identified as Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh al Hanashi, who has been imprisoned since 2002 at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Pentagon officials said he was a Taliban fighter who claimed at the camp that he had never killed anyone.

The article goes on to describe the conditions Mr. Hanashi was kept under – force fed, held in restraint chair, kept under sedation, weight had dropped to 87 pounds at one point, and possible solitary confinement. This was the fifth suicide at Guantanamo, and the first under the Obama administration. From that same article:

Mr. Remes, the lawyer with other Yemeni clients, said many prisoners are desperate. “They harbored some hope,” he said, “that President Obama would move swiftly to resolve the situation, but they can’t see any progress so far or any light at the end of the tunnel.”

I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel either. I just see more tunnels. But my real point for this post is to take a minute to reflect on the reality that people in war-savaged countries have to face, and to reflect on the certainty that some of them – it is unknown how many – will totally fall apart under the strain. Many more of them will become depressed from the losses and strife that comes from war, and from seeing loved ones who suffered or sustained horrific injuries or died.

A number of them will end their lives because of the pain and vastly changed conditions of their lives. I think this is particularly true for the people who have serious injuries, or saw violence (nearly everyone) or who lost a loved one. Not everyone in Iraq lost a loved one, but everyone in Iraq knows someone who was killed. The overall numbers are lower for Afghanistan at this point, but they certainly have their own mental health challenges.

There have been a few reports on mental health problems among Iraqis (none on Afghans that I could find). I found one report from a couple of years back, which discussed the increase in mental health problems and the decrease in mental health services, due to the war.

Iraqis exhibit more mental health problems

"Iraqis are being traumatized every day," said Dr. Said al-Hashimi, 54, a psychiatrist who runs a private clinic and teaches at Mustansiriya Medical School in Baghdad. "No one knows what will result from living through this continuous trauma on a daily basis."

…… In a sparsely furnished office inside the hospital, Iraqis file in to describe their ailments to Dr. Haider Adel Ali, a somber 40-year-old psychiatrist. Fanzia Jaafer, a 65-year-old housewife, has suffered from severe depression and suicidal thoughts since viewing the corpse of her son, whose head was nearly torn off by gunfire late in 2003.

……. Though no reliable research exists on the state of Iraqis' mental health, the preliminary results of a survey of 10,000 primary school students in the Shaab section of north Baghdad, conducted by the Iraqi Society of Psychiatrists and the World Health Organization, reveals widespread problems.

.......... "I look into the eyes of children whose parents have been killed or are imprisoned every day," said Dr. Nadal al-Shamri, a pediatrician at the Medical City health complex in Baghdad. "The psychological trauma is so deeply ingrained in some children that they may never lead a normal life." Al-Shamri said his 7-year-old son suffered an apparent nervous breakdown last year and stopped eating after the slaying of a close friend's father.

There was only one psychiatric hospital in Baghdad in 2007 when the above article was written. Many mental health professionals, like other health workers, were targeted in the sectarian violence. They fled the country in large numbers. I did a prior post in this series on the breakdown of the health care system in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan.

There is a report on Iraqi refugees in Syria, written by the UN Refugee Agency. They say that Iraqi refugees are suffering from extreme levels of trauma, extremely high levels of depression and anxiety and PTSD.

UN research indicates high levels of trauma among Iraqi refugees

“We are shocked by the statistics, but at the same time we are not surprised because every hour of the day there is somebody who reports torture, there is someone who reports the devastating effects of the violence,” said Sybella Wilkes, spokesperson for the UNHCR in Syria. Compared to similar studies conducted during and after conflicts in Kosovo and Afghanistan, the figures demonstrate the depth of emotional despair felt by Iraqi refugees in Syria.

….. According to the figures, 77 percent of respondents had been affected by air bombardments, shelling or rocket attacks, 80 percent had witnessed a shooting, 68 percent had undergone interrogation or harassment by militias, and 75 percent knew someone close to them who had been killed. In the UNHCR registration centre in Damascus Iraqi refugees do not hide their anguish: One family of 10 sat weeping uncontrollably as they recounted their story to a UNHCR registration clerk. Amongst them they had suffered rape and gunshot wounds and now they said they could no longer afford life in Syria. “Of course we’re depressed,” said Ahmed Tariq. “We have been since 2003 when it all began.”

The mental health challenges that come with everything that war brings would likely be more than I could stand. Just reading about it and writing about it is difficult – living it must be a waking nightmare. And the effects will be felt for a generation or more.

If you support the continued occupation of Iraq or Afghanistan, or the bombing of Pakistan, then you support WHAT WAR BRINGS: suicides.

TIMZ raps on Iraq

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