PESHAWAR: Psychiatrists have expressed concern over the mass displacement from North Waziristan in the wake of military action against militants and fear internally displaced persons from the restive tribal agency would face more mental and psychological problems in the days ahead.
“Until now, 575,000 people displaced from Waziristan due to a military action against militants have taken temporary shelter in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa districts adjoining tribal areas. Around 73 per cent of them are women and children, who are vulnerable to psychological conditions,” consultant psychiatrist Dr Mian Iftikhar Hussain told Dawn on Saturday.
He said around 50 per cent of the residents of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas had suffered psychological problems due to militancy and the subsequent military crackdowns on it, which caused the mass displacement.
Dr Mian Iftikhar said the North Waziristan IDPs were bound to develop short as well as long term psychological disorders in addition to physical problems.
“They (displaced persons) may develop the problems of de-personalisation, a condition in which people feel change in their personalities, as well as de-realisation, a condition in which people feel a complete change in the other people’s personalities,” he said.
Fear more psychological problems for displaced population in coming days
The psychiatrist, who heads the Iftikhar Psychiatric Hospital in Peshawar, said the burden of psychological disorders was unseen but it could go out of proportion if due attention was not paid to its early management.
“Women are the worst victims of this mass displacement, which is likely to cause them posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, panic disorder, mixed anxiety depression disorder and depression,” he said.
Dr Mian Iftikhar said the displaced persons suffered from poor self-esteem as well as insecurity about future, while grief and bereavement were other issues faced by them.
He said the people, who had to flee homes, struggled to adjust to new environments.
“A sense of insecurity as the result of loss of social structure as well as near and dear ones in the conflict will cause permanent phobias, chronic depression and adjustment problems among IDPs,” he said.
Rabia Basri, a psychologist at the same hospital, voiced concern about the mental health of displaced children.
“From childhood to adolescence, a child passes through a lot of dramatic changes in physical as well as mental health. During the transition, they gain their identity, grow physically and establish social interaction and relationship in home, in community and in society as whole,” she said.
The psychologist said children going through such ordeals couldn’t progress academically.
She said the situation with regard to women would deteriorate as they (women) continued to stay in the conditions which they were currently in.
“Such women have to live in host community with relatives or in small rented houses most of which don’t have proper water, electricity and sanitation system. It is very difficult for them to work and cook in the current fasting month in this hot weather, especially when they don't have access to basic amenities,” she said.
Zainab Bibi, another psychologist from the hospital, sees the situation as critical for the Waziristan people.
“They (IDPs) have left their homes in hurry to save their lives. They are victims of decade-long war in their native areas.
“It will be very difficult for them to face challenges. However, they could overcome some of them with the help of the government and welfare societies as well as relatives,” she said.
The psychologist said the incidence of psychiatric disorders among displaced persons would soar due to the ‘protracted life difficulties.’
“Women and children were more vulnerable to developing psychiatric disorders then men,” she said.
Zainab Bibi said the government should create environment for IDPs similar to the one they were in before fleeing their homes.
“They (displaced people) should have access to educational and recreational facilities, which will definitely help them fight mental health problems,” she said.
Published in Dawn, July 6th , 2014