Increased Mental Health Care Needed in Iraq

The Iraqi Ministry of Health and its supporters should improve access to mental health care services for a population still reeling from decades of conflict, political instability, and social upheaval, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said in a report released today.

The report, Healing Iraqis: The Challenges of Providing Mental Health Care in Iraq, shows how the toll of day-to-day violence has affected Iraqis, leaving people vulnerable to psychological stress, mental health disorders, and in dire need of mental health care services. It calls on the Iraqi Ministry of Health (IMoH) to improve mental health care services by integrating counseling into existing health facilities across Iraq. MSF also noted that more must be done to reduce the stigma of accessing mental health services in order to encourage more people to seek counseling

“Many Iraqis have been pushed to their absolute limit,” said Helen O’Neill, MSF’s head of mission in Iraq. “Mentally exhausted by their experiences, many people struggle to understand what is happening to them. The feelings of isolation and hopelessness are compounded by the taboo associated with mental health issues and the lack of mental health care services that people can turn to for help,” she said.

Since 2009, MSF and the IMoH have introduced psychological counseling services in two hospitals in Baghdad and one in Fallujah. The programs focus on non-pharmaceutical approaches to address anxiety and depressive disorders commonly experienced by people exposed to violence and uncertainty. There are plans to replicate this counseling model across the country, with the IMoH starting programs in Kut, Karbala, and Sulaymaniyah hospitals.

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