Brutal ISIS Tactics Create New Levels Of Trauma Among Iraqis | KERA News

Brutal ISIS Tactics Create New Levels Of Trauma Among Iraqis

Feb 23, 2015
Originally published on February 23, 2015 2:47 pm

At a camp for displaced people in northern Iraq, you pass rows of tents to reach the clinic run by the International Medical Corps. They have medicines to treat all kinds of problems: diabetes shots, vaccines, heart pills.

But it's harder to cure what's afflicting one woman in particular.

"The pain inside of me is so deep," she says. "I just cry every day."

Militants from the group that calls itself the Islamic State kidnapped the woman's adult son in June, and she doesn't know his fate.

Her husband expresses the loss in more destructive ways.

"I've become mentally ill," he says. "When my wife tries to talk to me, I just lash out. I hit her."

People in Iraq have lived with war for more than a decade. But aid workers say ISIS' practice of public beheading and other brutal forms of mass violence is creating new levels of psychological trauma among the Iraqi people.

During one afternoon in Baharka camp clinic, a parade of people came sharing their stories of trauma. We're not using the names of these patients, because they still have family in areas controlled by ISIS, and they fear for their relatives' safety.

One man says ISIS extremists forced him to dig his own grave with a shovel. Another describes watching militants cover his friend in kerosene and set him on fire.

"I've totally changed," says the 29-year-old man. "I'm not like normal people any more. I don't expect to be fixed."

Overcoming Stigma, Overwhelming Numbers

It's the job of Stacy Lamon to try to fix him. Lamon is director of mental health for Iraq with the International Medical Corps.

"I wish I had a vaccination, that I could give people a quick shot and they'd be better," Lamon says. "It doesn't work that way."

The mental health staff members at this camp give their patients counseling and sometimes pills. Dr. Omed Khadir Taha, one of the psychiatrists here, says he also has to tackle the stigma that goes along with mental health problems in Iraq.

"They cannot express, you know," Taha says. "Sometimes they perceive that as just a kind of weakness."

This is slow, arduous work, and only a tiny fraction of those who need help are getting it, says Lamon.

"There [are] 3,000 people in this camp, and this is one of the smaller camps," he says. "And of the 3,000 there's only a very small portion that are being treated."

He says Iraq could be looking at a traumatized generation. But some patients give the staff reason to hope.

Imagining A Day With Less Pain

One man at the camp watched his 7-year-old son killed in front of him. The man scrolls through images on his phone — his son, as a newborn, as a toddler. The boy is adorable, all smiles. The man says he looks at these more times each day than he can count.

Before, he says, he was more than 90 percent in pain. Now, he says, it's decreased to 50 percent. He is only beginning to recover.

But when asked, he says he can imagine a day when his pain diminishes even more — inshallah, or God willing, he says.

At the end of the day, we leave the camp, and pass by this man again. He doesn't notice us. He's sitting by himself, staring at the pictures on his phone.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And now let's go to Iraq, where people have lived with more than a decade of war. Most recently, the group that calls itself the Islamic State, or ISIS, has made a practice of public beheadings and other brutal forms of violence. International relief workers say that is creating new levels of psychological trauma. We should warn you that there will be some graphic descriptions in the next three minutes or so. NPR's Ari Shapiro joined mental health professionals trying to address the problem.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: At this camp for displaced people in northern Iraq, you pass rows of tents to reach the clinic run by the International Medical Corps. They have medicines to treat all kinds of problems here - diabetes shots, vaccines, heart pills. It's harder to cure this woman's affliction.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

SHAPIRO: "The pain inside of me is so deep," she says. "I just cry every day." We're not using the names of these patients because they still have family in areas controlled by ISIS, and they fear for their relatives' safety. ISIS kidnapped this woman's adult son in June, and she doesn't know his fate. Her husband expresses the loss in more destructive ways.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

SHAPIRO: "I've become mentally ill," he says. "When my wife tries to talk to me, I just lash out. I hit her." During one afternoon in this clinic, a parade of people came through sharing their stories of trauma. One man says he was forced to dig his own grave with a shovel. Another describes watching his friend covered in kerosene and set on fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

SHAPIRO: "I've totally changed," says this 29-year-old. "I'm not like normal people anymore. I don't expect to be fixed." It's the job of Stacy Lamon to try to fix him. He's director of mental health for Iraq with the International Medical Corps.

STACY LAMON: I wish I had the vaccination that I could give people a quick shot, and they'd be better. It doesn't work that way.

SHAPIRO: Mental health staff at this camp give their patients counseling and sometimes pills. Dr. Omed Khadir Taha is one of the psychiatrists here. He says he also has to tackle the stigma that goes along with mental health problems here.

OMED KHADIR TAHA: Because they cannot express, you know, sometime they perceive that as just kind of weakness.

SHAPIRO: This is slow, arduous work and only a tiny fraction of those who need help are getting it, says Stacy Lamon.

LAMON: There's 3,000 people in this camp, and this is one of the smaller camps. And of those 3,000, there's only a very small portion that are being treated.

SHAPIRO: He says Iraq could be looking at a traumatized generation. But some patients give the staff here reason to hope. This man watched his 7-year-old son killed in front of him. The man is only beginning to recover.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: He say, "the previous year, the former time, I was more than 90 percent. I was bad. Now I've decreased to 50 percent."

SHAPIRO: That's a good improvement. Was that your son? Is that his photograph on your phone? Oh, he's adorable. He's so young and smiley.

The man scrolls through the images, his son as a newborn, as a toddler. He says he looks at these more times each day than he can count.

You said that before you were 90 percent pain, and now you're only 50 percent pain. Can you imagine a day when 50 percent is 5 percent or 0 percent?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken).

SHAPIRO: "God willing," he says. At the end of the day, we leave the camp and pass by this man again. He doesn't notice us. He's sitting by himself, staring at the pictures on his phone. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Erbil, Iraq. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.