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The mental health and psychosocial problems of survivors of torture and genocide in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq: A brief qualitative study

Bolton, Paul; Michalopoulos, Lynn T. M.; Ahmed, Ahmed Mohammed Amin; Murray, Laura K.; Bass, Judith

Background: From 1986-9, the Kurdish population of Iraqi Kurdistan was subjected to an intense campaign of military action, and genocide by the central Iraq government. This campaign, referred to as the Anfal, included systematic attacks consisting of aerial bombings, mass deportation, imprisonment, torture, and chemical warfare. It has been estimated that around 200,000 Kurdish people disappeared. Purpose: To gain a better understanding of current priority mental health and psychosocial problems among Kurdish survivors of the Anfal, and to inform the subsequent design of culturally appropriate and relevant assessment instruments and services to address these problems. The study examined 1) the nature and cause of current problems of survivors of torture and/or civilian attacks and their families, 2) what survivors do to address these problems, and 3) what they felt should be done. Methods: We used a grounded theory approach. Free list interviews with a convenience sample (n=42) explored the current problems of Kurdish persons affected by torture. Subsequent key informant interviews (n=21) gathered more detailed information on the priority mental health problem areas identified in the free list interviews. Results: Major mental health problem areas emerging from the free list interviews (and explored in the key informant interviews) included 1) problems directly related to the torture, 2) problems related to the current situation, and 3) problems related to the perception and treatment by others in the community. Problems were similar, but not identical, to Western concepts of depression, anxiety, PTSD and related trauma, and traumatic grief. Conclusion: Iraqi Kurdish torture survivors in Iraq have many mental health and psychosocial problems found among torture survivors elsewhere. The findings suggest that the problems are a result of the trauma experienced as well as current stressors. Development of mental health assessment tools and interventions should therefore address both previous trauma and current stressors.


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Social Work
International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims
Published Here
January 26, 2015