Iraqi Children Suffer Mental Stress from War A new study in Iraq surveyed 2,500 kids, randomly chosen from a middle-income area of north Baghdad, to see if researchers could determine the effects of the war on their mental health.
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Iraqi Children Suffer Mental Stress from War

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Iraqi Children Suffer Mental Stress from War

Iraqi Children Suffer Mental Stress from War

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Coming up: Parsing the Supreme Court's abortion ruling. But first, the children of Baghdad face fear and death everyday. Bombs blow up in market places where mothers are shopping with their children. Kids walk to school past dead bodies and body parts. Soldiers knock on doors and search houses. And, of course, many of Baghdad's children have been injured and killed.

We all assume that many of these children are being harmed by war even if they are not injured. But a survey conducted by the Iraq Ministry of Health documents that damage. About 2,500 children, chosen randomly from the middle-income part of north Baghdad, participated in the survey.

Dr. Mohammed al-Aboudi is Iraq's national mental health adviser and the author of the study, which will be released next month. When we spoke with him this week from Baghdad, he explained that these children were asked a standard set of 10 questions based on an international questionnaire used to determine stress levels.

Dr. MOHAMMED AL-ABOUDI (National Mental Health Adviser, Iraq): We asked about difficulty in speech and reading difficulties. Well had they decline in school performance (unintelligible).

WERTHEIMER: Wetting the bed.

Dr. AL-ABOUDI: Yes, and some disturbing behavior like stealing, running away from home, which is very common among the (unintelligible).

WERTHEIMER: From the children's answers to those questions, Dr. al-Aboudi and his colleagues determined that 70 percent of the children surveyed currently suffer from stress and trauma due to their exposure to the Iraq war.

Dr. AL-ABOUDI: It was about my expectation. I was shocked that more than 70 percent of the children have some of these difficulties.

WERTHEIMER: That's almost all the children.

Dr. AL-ABOUDI: Yes. And those symptoms were higher among those kids with parents of limited education.

WERTHEIMER: I wonder why that would be?

Dr. AL-ABOUDI: I'm not so sure, but it might be that the coping for anxiety on those families is very limited.

WERTHEIMER: Dr. al-Aboudi told us that one way to help the children of Baghdad deal with the anxieties of war would be to train teachers to recognize the signs of trauma and provide counseling for children displaying those signs. But in a country ravaged by war without reliable basic services like electricity and clean water, psychological counseling is a near impossibility.

Dr. AL-ABOUDI: You know, even the past regime, these services were neglected, I mean, the social workers in the schools. And there are a very limited number now of psychiatrists in Baghdad because most of the colleagues left the country.

WERTHEIMER: Dr. al-Aboudi said that especially with so few psychiatrists remaining in Iraq, and virtually no social workers in the schools, it's difficult to predict the long-term effects on a generation living under constant fear and daily exposure to death.

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