Women’s mental health in Afghanistan – by Dr. Zarghuna Taraki

“As an Afghan woman myself I am more than aware of the struggles that us Afghan women face particularly in Afghanistan where 30 years of war has permanently damaged the status of women. It is not only social struggles that Afghan women face every day, but they face dire struggles just to survive, of these women the ones with mental issues are most prone to suffering and degradation on a daily basis. Being a doctor I feel it is my duty to help those who are in need may it be in a medical sense or just by raising awareness of an issue, I hope my short article inspires people to better understand these struggles  and do all in their power to help Afghan Women.”

See Homepage ‘Talking Point’ for this and other original articles.

During the last 30 years, Afghanistan has been affected by conflict in many ways. One can hardly find an Afghan family which has not lost one or more members in this period due to conflict. Over one million people have been killed, one million are disabled and millions either migrated abroad or are internally displaced. Conflict and other factors such as unemployment, general poverty, breakdown of community support services, and inadequate access to health services have not only damaged the social infrastructure of the nation, but also caused mental health disorders mostly in vulnerable groups like women and disabled people.

Half of the Afghan population aged 15 years or older is affected by at least one of these mental disorders: depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. These disorders add to community and domestic violence and to the high levels of malnutrition in the country as they undesirably affect maternal care giving in various ways. Furthermore, social restrictions and taboos are big challenges for women’s access to mental health services in Afghanistan.

Postpartum depression has been associated with antenatal depression, young maternal age, single maternal status, cigarette smoking or illegal drug use during pregnancy, hyperemesis gravidarum, high utilization of emergency services and sick leave during pregnancy and previous affective disorders.

Surveys conducted by national and international organizations indicate that 66 per cent of all Afghans are suffering from stress disorders and mental problems. Mental illness presents significant risks to women’s lives worldwide.

Mental disorders are no less common in pregnancy than at other times in a women’s life. Anxiety and depression are common, and women with other significant mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder are at greater risk of compromised maternity care, delivery complications and relapse in pregnancy and postpartum (post-delivery) period.

A regular budget allocation does not exist for mental health. In 2004, 0.1 million USD (out of a 289.4 million USD total health budget) was directed for mental health. Although a national human rights body exists, only one review/inspection of human rights protection for patients was carried out in 2004.

Afghanistan faces a high burden of mental health problems, persistent stressors and limited mental health services. There are critical gaps in the response:

  • Access and availability of mental health services remains limited
  • Available services are of low quality
  • There are no trained clinical psychologists or psychiatric nurses
  • Lack of proper monitoring and evaluation system and indicators to measure success of mental health services
  • Medicalisation of mental health problems, and poor quality of mental health services has led to irrational use of anti-depressants and benzodiazepines
  • Inadequate financing of mental health and psychosocial interventions

It is clear from the above that Afghanistan still has a long way to go in the way of improving the serious concerns with the treatment of mental health especially in the case of women.

– See more at: http://afghanwsf.co.uk/#sthash.I8LdYS5l.dpuf