Afghanistan is on the brink of a mental health catastrophe with children going to bed hungry, dropping out of school and only 1 in 4 children and adults receiving the treatment they need. Save the Children provides nutrition and mental health support to meet children’s growing needs.
Afghanistan on the Brink of Mental Health Catastrophe as Children are Pushed to the Limit
FAIRFIELD, Conn. (October 09, 2022) – Afghanistan is on the brink of a mental health catastrophe as the economic crisis and decades of conflict take a dangerous toll on children’s mental and psychosocial well-being. With only one in four children and adults receiving the treatment they urgently need, many may not recover and will face long-term consequences, Save the Children has warned.
Children are under increasing emotional and psychological pressure as they bear the brunt of the worsening crisis in Afghanistan. Many go to bed hungry night at night, drop out of school to work to support their family, have lost loved ones due to a lack of healthcare and have very little hope for the future.
There are an estimated 4,460,000 children and adults who need mental health and psychosocial support in Afghanistan, but so far this year, only 1,308,661 people have been able to access services and treatment, according to new data.
A recent Save the Children report also found that one in four girls showed signs of depression or anxiety, and two-thirds of children said they felt negative feelings – including feeling more worried, sad, and angry.
Parents have told Save the Children that, due to the violence and the current financial pressures on their families, they have seen concerning changes in their children’s behavior, including uncontrollable crying, nightmares, aggressiveness, and self-harm.
The majority of children and adults who need psychosocial support services cannot access them because the services don’t exist in their communities. In addition, Afghanistan’s healthcare and child protection systems have long been under-resourced, and facilities often lack qualified staff and resources. Families also struggle to pay for treatment and transportation to and from facilities.
Save the Children – together with its political advocacy arm Save the Children Action Network – is strongly supporting the Mental Health in International Development and Humanitarian Settings (MINDS) Act (S.2105 & H.R.3988), the first-ever piece of U.S. legislation that would promote mental health and psychosocial support as a key component of U.S. foreign assistance in countries like Afghanistan.
Although conflict in Afghanistan has reduced over the past year, children are still dealing with the violence they have witnessed in the past – including the loss of loved ones – and are still exposed to deadly attacks targeting students and education facilities.
New restrictions imposed by the Taliban have also had an impact on children’s mental health, especially for girls. The restrictions mean many girls have been excluded from school, socializing, and going to parks and shops. The economic crisis has also forced some girls into early marriage as their parents need the money to feed the other children in the family.
Rahima*, 17, was top of her class and loved attending school before her parents were forced to arrange her engagement to an older man. The family was desperate for money as they were surviving on bread and rarely ate a proper meal. Her mother, Marzia*, had already lost five babies in the past because they couldn’t afford healthcare, so she was determined that her other children would survive.
Shortly after the engagement, Rahima dropped out of school and stopped talking to her family and friends.
“Before life was OK. We worked on the land, and my husband and son worked as casual laborers. But now it’s hard to get jobs, and the cost of food has increased, and now due to the poverty and because of the economy, we’ve engaged our daughters,” Marzia* said.
“Before the engagement, she was completely well; she did all her tasks well and was interested in life. After the engagement, everything changed…she became disengaged in life and school and argued with her siblings. When I used to ask her about school, she would hit her head on the wall continuously, and then she would get a headache.”
Rasheeda, a Save the Children counselor, said Rahima used to cry continuously and hit herself. She provided psychosocial support to Rahima and helped encourage her to go back to school. Rasheeda also negotiated with the families to delay the marriage until Rahima is an adult and has finished school.
Rahima said: “I was lost, and there was pressure from every side - the conflict and pressures from my family - and I became disillusioned about continuing my education. Now I’m slowly improving, and this has happened because of Save the Children’s support. Rasheeda is like my teacher; she has helped me a lot.”
Nora Hassanien, Acting Save the Children Country Director in Afghanistan, said:
“The current crisis in Afghanistan is pushing children to their absolute mental and emotional limits. What these children are experiencing – the bombings, watching as their siblings die from hunger, being banned from school, and being separated from their parents – is having a fundamental impact on their mental and psychosocial well-being.
“This World Mental Health Day, Save the Children is calling on the international community to provide critical humanitarian aid to help families survive this economic crisis and long-term funding for mental health and psychosocial support. The future of Afghanistan’s children – and their country – depend on it.”
Leslie Archambeault, Managing Director of Humanitarian Policy for Save the Children U.S., said:
“This World Mental Health Day, we must remember that every child, no matter where they live, deserves to live a safe, happy and healthy life. Being mentally healthy is no exception. That’s why we’re urging Congress to swiftly pass the MINDS Act – so that mental health is put at the forefront of the discussion and real change can be made. The children of Afghanistan deserve a better, brighter future and MINDS Act passage would be an important step in the right direction.
“Mental health is crucial to a child’s physical and intellectual growth and development. Strong mental health and psychosocial supports at a young age lay a vital foundation for their education, and their ability to cope with challenges later in life. By investing in children’s mental health and psychosocial well-being, we are investing in the global community – its brighter future and long-term success.”
In addition to advocacy efforts with the U.S. government, Save the Children is providing mental health and psychosocial support for children in one-on-one and group counseling sessions and helping children to build their resilience and coping strategies via youth groups and children-friendly spaces. The organization is also providing cash grants to families to help them avoid resorting to desperate measures to survive, such as selling their children into marriage.
*Names changed to protect identities
NOTES TO EDITORS:
- UNICEF estimates that 4,460,000 children and adults need mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), but so far this year, only 1,308,661 children and adults have accessed MHPSS services; thus, an estimated 1 in 4 people are receiving support.
- Save the Children has worked in Afghanistan since 1976, including during periods of conflict, regime change, and natural disasters. We have programs in nine provinces and work with partners in an additional six provinces. Since the Taliban regained control in August 2021, we’ve been scaling up our response to support the increasing number of children in need. We’re delivering health, nutrition, education, child protection, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene, and food security and livelihoods support. Save the Children has reached more than 3 million people, including 1.7 million children, since September 2021.
Save the Children believes every child deserves a future. Since our founding more than 100 years ago, we’ve changed the lives of more than 1 billion children. In the United States and around the world, we give children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We do whatever it takes for children – every day and in times of crisis – transforming their lives and the future we share. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
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