Mental health of children – in Iraq and India

When the 18-year old Rehat Hama- Aziz from Halabja in the autonomous region of Kurdistan, in northern Iraq,  played his clarinet  presented to him by his father, to a musical marvel,  that came to be celebrated by the media as the solace and aspiraton of a country.  Accolades poured in for him at a  very young age.   Most recently, he won the coveted Rwanga Award too.  Still,  instead of the serene path of a music-bound life,  he chose the path of death.   

It was only when on the seventh day from winning the Rwanga award  (second week of last December)  and he courted death  that the outside world came to know the agonizing tale of trauma and throes he experienced until then.   His father later revealed that Rehat who was suffering from depression had shown suicide tendencies earlier too.   Rehat thus becomes a symbol of a war-torn new generation,  debilitated by occupation and terror attacks just pulling on with their lives.   Even as the outside world comforts itself about those like Rehat that they survived the war,  why would it be that they opt for death? 

Reports from his country tell us that Rehat's is not an isolated instance.  In Iraq where initially the US occupation and later the military expeditions of IS wrought disaster,  one out of every five Iraqi is subject to various kinds of psychic disorders.  Reports of voluntary organizations like Doctors Without Borders also state that the worst affected are those below 18 years of age. The report also underlines the fact that child labour doubled there because of war and suicide rate among children increasing every year.    

At least 100 crore children are estimated to live in regions suffering from military conflicts.  It would not be an overstatement that the mental health of this 100 crore children will not be much different from that of Rehat.  For several studies have already come out about the mental health crisis suffered by children in war zones.  A study about Syria by voluntary organization 'Save Children' can be an example.  80 per cent of children in that country,  torn apart by civil war and IS,  suffer from mental ill-health.   The report titled 'Invisible Wounds' dwells on what is called 'toxic strains' seen as worse than the use of chemical weapons by President Bashar al-Assad.   No school in Syria is felt to be safe by children.  They are those who were driven out of homes in the very first days of the war,  and roaming in seach of asylum each day.   Many crossed borders.  Those who did not,  became internal refgees.  In the pursuit seeing death ahead,  many choose the path of suicide.  The rest turn psychotic under severe psychic stress and live listlessly.  Similar tales can be heard also from countries like Libya,  Yemen,  South Sudan and Columbia. 

All this is about the state of children in war-affected regions.  In a way,  this is only one among the inevitable and natural consequences of war and conflicts.   But then what about the state of things in relatively peaceful and conflict-free countries like India?  What we would expect is a picture different from that of Iraq and Syria.  But the fact is quite to the contrary,  so much so that the situation of our country is worse than that of war-zone nations,   as reported by several bodies including World Health Organization.    India has the highest rate of adolescent suicides (35 per lakh).    We do not have a generation like Iraq's which is tormented by war and occupation.   We have a relatively strong infrastructure accessible to over 70 per cent of the population.   If adolescents still choose suicide under different stresses,  that needs to be addressed seriously.   Reasons to which these are usually attributed are stress from schools or workplaces,  family disruptions and addiction to alcohol.    Add to it the statistic that of the women committing suicide across the world, one out of three are in India,  and then one cannot discount the observation about the suffering children.

However,  it is doubtful if our authorities have approached this issue with the seriousness it deserves.   According to National Mental Health Survey,  15 crore people of the country are subject to different kinds of psychic abnormalties.  Of this,  90 per cent did not receive adequate treatment.  This means that the aspect of mental health has not yet found its due place in our health policy.   Although Mental Health Care Act was formulated in  2017,  it is to be investigated how effective that has been.  And they have mostly comprised amendments like excluding attempt to suicide from criminal offences.  That does not address the physical and mental torture children suffer in households.  The recent incidents in Thodupuzha and Aluvain in which small children were victims to attacks and killed,  tell a story of children not being safe even within their own homes.  Eduational institutions and workplaces also often become scenes of mental torture.   What the country now yearns for is a comprehensive health policy taking into account all these factors.

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