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Mental Illness on Rise in Pakistan’s Tribal Region in the Wake of Terror Attacks


FILE - Pakistanis attend a funeral service for the victims of a bomb blast at a mosque in Parachinar, the capital of Pakistan's northwestern Kurram tribal region, Jan. 21, 2017.

Health experts in Pakistan’s terror-wrecked Northwestern Tribal region say there has been a rise in psychological or psychiatric disorders, depression, anxiety and other forms of mental ailments as a result of frequent terror attacks.

“Dealing with militancy and sectarianism on a continued basis results in unavoidable mental stress. Inadequate health facilities add to the problems of locals who have to mostly rely on self-medication,” Dr. Talha Rehman, co-trustee of Elaj Trust, a social welfare organization told VOA.

Rehman was part of a team of medical doctors that evaluated the mental health problems of residents of Parachinar. The largest city of Pakistan’s semiautonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has seen increasing reports of post traumatic stress disorder, according to health experts in the region.

“Every other family in Parachinar has lost their son, brother or father to terrorism. Militancy has damaged the very fabric of this society, it has affected their senses and their mental capabilities,” said Rehman.

Parachinar, the administrative headquarters of Kurram Agency of FATA shares a strategic and porous border with Afghanistan and has an estimated population of around 250,000 people.

The city has seen a spike both in militancy and sectarian violence in recent years. In June, Parachinar’s main market was jolted by two simultaneous bomb blasts that claimed more than 70 lives and left 250 wounded.

“I lost my elder brother in bomb blasts in June and went through severe mental trauma that will last with me for the rest of my life,” Humayun Toori, a local resident of Parachinar told VOA. “My brother had four young daughters, who will take care of them? The decades’ long militancy and insurgency have made us all pay the price. Our graveyards are full of innocent victims.”

Elaj Trust jointly organized a psychological social health assessment workshop in Parachinar recently.

Pakistani security officals and local residents are seen gathered at the site of a bomb explosion at a market in Parachinar city, the capital of Kurram tribal district on the Afghan border on Jan. 21, 2017.
Pakistani security officals and local residents are seen gathered at the site of a bomb explosion at a market in Parachinar city, the capital of Kurram tribal district on the Afghan border on Jan. 21, 2017.

The doctors conducting the study were pleasantly surprised that conversation on mental health is not considered a stigma and “tribesmen of Parachinar were open to discuss their psychiatric issues.”

Experts believe certain factors such as lack of basic infrastructure, weak government, ongoing militancy and counter insurgency operations have badly impacted the lives and the mental state of those living in the tribal region.

The continued militancy and the aftershocks of Soviet-Afghan War fought in the 80s also contributed towards the mental ailments. “Three generations in this region have not seen peace. They have lived in a constant state of war and fear since the 80’s,” Tahira Abdullah, a prominent human rights activist told VOA. “Off course they will develop mental disorders, anyone going through such atrocities will,”

Health experts believe terrorism is not the sole reason contributing to the deteriorating mental health of local population – other factors such as lack of proper health facilities and qualified doctors, poor infrastructure, fewer job opportunities and a disconnect with the rest of the country, are adding to the frustration.

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    Madeeha Anwar

    Madeeha Anwar is a multimedia journalist with Voice of America's Extremism Watch Desk in Washington where she primarily focuses on extremism in the South Asia region.

    Follow Madeeha on Twitter at @MadeehaAnwar

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