Mental Health is not about the occurrence or absence of a specific mental disorder or disability, it is defined as state of well-being in which every individual realizes her or his own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make contribution to her or his community. It is determined by multiple social, psychological, biological and environmental factors, mental health is integral to the overall health and social conditions of individuals and societies, and problems relating to it contribute significantly to national and global burdens of diseases.
In Iraq, years of war, conflict and embargo, not only continued to the prevalence of mental health issues, but have also disrupted the progress of mental health care development. In most recent years, and with the support and guidance of the World Health Organization, the Government of Iraq has once again begun to direct the much-needed attention to this important health and social component.
Mental Health programme has been active since 2003 with multiple sources of donors funding. Many high level international and national forums and conferences on MNH in Iraq have been held where policies and strategies to deliver quality MH services have been discussed and developed.
In 2006/7, the Iraq Mental Health Survey (IMHS) was conducted and published by the Iraqi Ministries of Health and Planning in collaboration with the World Health Organization. IMHS provided evidence-based and valuable information of the prevalence of mental health diseases and the impact of violence on the Iraqi people. The survey’s findings provided data that supported great consequential efforts towards improving mental health care in the country.
Iraq has a substantial number of highly competent and skilled Psychiatrists. However, most of these human resources are at center and there is huge gap between the sophistication at the policy and strategy level and shortage or outright absence of skilled manpower and mental health services at the local level. The integration of MNH services into PHC is only available at less than 50% of PHC centers in the country. The psycho-social care and support to address post-traumatic stress disorders are grossly inadequate, particularly considering the intensity and the frequency of traumas that Iraqis have faced since 1980 until now. Six trauma centers have been established, two in Baghdad , one in Mosul, one in Basra, one in Duhok, one in Diwaniyah. The gap in dealing with substance use is being addressed, as the care and treatment of people with drug dependency at special institutions need to be improved in terms of capacities and supplies and equipment. Attempts are made and continue to establish a school mental health programme as well as fully integrating MNH in PHC.
Psychosocial and mental health services for people in Iraq with focus on northern governorates are being strengthened through a new project endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Iraqi authorities and funded by The Netherlands.
This two-year project was endorsed on 20 January 2009 by the Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs, the Ministry of Health in Iraq's Kurdistan region and WHO. It aims to improve and strengthen the quality of social and mental health care services by rebuilding psychiatric infrastructure to care for Iraqis, particularly women suffering from mental disorders and substance abuse. The project also aims to develop community-based and decentralized mental health facilities in the northern governorates of Suleymaniyah, Erbil and Mosul.
While mental health services have long been present in Baghdad, northern areas of the country have been without psychiatric inpatient facilities. There is also a recognized need for such services in northern Iraq, particularly among people traumatized by the Al-Anfal operations of the mid- to late-1980s. An assessment found that some 182 000 people had been affected, predominantly women, who faced rape, psychological abuse, and physical and mental torture. The Iraq Mental Health Survey of 2006-07 showed that 35.5% of screened individuals were emotionally distressed (40.4% females and 30.4% males) and (49.9%) of people in the 50+ age group were emotionally distressed.
"The lack of psychosocial health services in northern Iraq, combined with the clear mental health needs for Iraqis that arose out of the Al Anfal operations, were the driving forces behind our joint-efforts to provide appropriate psychosocial care in this part of the country in close coordination with the ministry of Health in Iraq led by Dr. Saleh Al-Hasnawi, the previous Iraqi Minister of Health. This initiative will help us overcome those results and move towards a brighter future.