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IQ_Abdul Karim © Action contre la Faim Iraq



Addressing mental health needs and building social cohesion in post-war Iraq

Common symptoms of unaddressed trauma include isolation, exclusion from social life, difficulties to deal with emotions, but also higher rates of suicides, domestic violence and divorce. Stress, anxiety and gender-based violence in particular remain prominent among displaced individuals, returnees and refugees. Yet, mental healthcare is not widely available: most health centers do not provide those services and mental health is not systematically part of the training curriculum for health workers. This gap mainly results from the lack of investment in mental health services and qualified professionals, as well as the persistence of stigma and misconceptions around mental health disorders.




In 2022, Action contre la Faim led community-based campaigns in Ninewa to build acceptance and awareness around protection risks and mental health. Participants from local civil society organizations and volunteer teams were invited to awareness sessions, focusing on acceptance of mental health issues, gender-based violence, child protection and existing referral pathways for survivors. Abdul Karim, 27 years old, is an active member of a community-based organization who participated in one of the awareness sessions in Mosul, Ninewa governorate. Having worked with other humanitarian organizations, Abdul Karim is very active in volunteer networks and community-led initiatives. Well known in his community, he previously received the title of Peace Ambassador from the New Iraq Network.

Abdul Karim participated in the basic mental health, psychosocial support and protection training provided by Action contre la Faim, focusing on the referral of gender-based violence and child protection cases to adequate care. In this community, Abdul Karim sees the lack of awareness around mental health as a major barrier for displaced and returnee families trying to get back to their lives. In particular, “the stigma about mental health and the fear of the community due to lack of information about mental health issues” prevents many community members from accessing support, as they fear being humiliated or rejected if they ask for help. He highlights the absence of dedicated health centres providing adequate mental health services.



The training provided Abdul Karim with increased knowledge around the consequences of gender-based violence, such as risks of suicide and addiction, as well as the existing referrals and support options for survivors. He said he understood better the pressures and challenges faced by survivors. “After the training, I was able to raise awareness among other members of my community. Many lacked understanding around mental health, so the knowledge that I provided helped expand their awareness” say Abdul Karim. He believes that the support provided by Action contre la Faim continues to reflect on his daily life: “I am sharing all this information with my family, giving advice to friends and helping them understand mental health and how it affects our lives directly”.

A few weeks after the training, he remembers organizing an awareness sessions in his community to build acceptance and access to critically-needed mental health services. “There was this 22-year-old girl, suffering from depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts” he describes. Thanks to the increased knowledge about mental health and referral pathways he gained during the training, Abdul Karim was able to refer the girl to one of the active primary healthcare centers of his community, where he know that health workers trained by ACF could support her with quality mental health services. “Her condition improved after receiving mental health services, and her suicidal thoughts changed, giving her a hope for the future!” confirms Abdul Karim.




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