Afghan Women’s Mental Health in the Context of War Devastation

PsySRAfghanistan has experienced over three decades of war, and throughout this period there has never been true relief from fear and from the threat of violence and human rights abuses.

Even now in an election year, it is evident that many who are in power or who seek power have ties to the Taliban or other warlords, widespread abuses, and the drug trade. Villages are still controlled by strong-arms, and even in the best of circumstances, small advances in daily life are always under threat. Tentative safety is often only moments away from being a myth.

In this environment great attention to mental health is needed. Most Afghans function with an elevated daily level of stress from violence, economic hardship, and inter-community and family strife. As a result of this still highly patriarchal society, the effects of this stress fall disproportionately on women. Then, almost by default, it is transferred to their children. The few studies that researchers have been able to conduct have shown extremely high rates of depression and anxiety. Inadequate mental health care and lack of effective coping mechanisms for such stress contribute to unhealthy patterns, which can in turn result in a return to a cycle of violence even by those who are the most vulnerable to it.

Afghan women are at the heart of the healthy development of their children and social cohesion in their families. Abandonment of widows and children has become an increasing problem, which tears at the fiber of society. This project, a proposed collaboration between PsySR and HealthNet TPO, will focus on women’s empowerment and highlight the importance of women in the community. Attention to psychosocial needs will also shift the focus from unhealthy coping mechanisms to collaborative community efforts to provide healing and promote peace.

The project specifically intends to:

  • Build the skills and tools of mental health and other health care professionals who are already working in these communities.
  • Provide these mental health care workers with awareness and sensitivity to mental health care problems specific to women and families at this particular juncture of competing pressures from traditionalism, fundamentalism, and modernity.
  • Build women’s capacity to recognize their own resilience, providing them with an outlet to discuss their problems and increase their ability to cope and to be functional.
  • Decrease the effects of family violence and violence in communities through women’s interactions and connections with each other, addressing common issues and problems that extend beyond the bounds of family, ethnic, and political orientation.

For more information about this PsySR project, please contact Nahid Aziz at nahid.aziz@cox.net.

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