Hear from our Yazidi mental health patients in Iraq

08 Oct 2019

Since 2018, MSF has been providing mental health services in Sinjar district to those Yazidi survivors of the 2014 genocide in Iraq and their families. The team has increased the mental health care activities to cover psychiatric and psychological health care activities in Sinuni hospital as well as group sessions and mobile mental health clinics for the displaced on Sinjar mountain. Despite these activities, and those of others, the mental health crisis in Sinjar runs deep. Since the team began counting in April, MSF has counted 24 young people dead by suicide. The youngest was just 13 year old. Whilst these services have been scaled up in recent months, it is now overwhelmed and has a waiting list.

A Yazidi woman aged 60 poses in her house in Sinuni, Iraq

"We are from Khanasor village but we’ve been living in Sinuni since March 2019, when we came back from the IDP camps. After the 2014 genocide, I started to have mental health problems. I feel nervous, scared, uncomfortable and angry. I have a constant headache. I have pain in my eyes because I cry a lot. I am always thinking about the memories from the genocide, those who died, those who emigrated. Some of my sons live abroad now, and it’s difficult to be apart." 


A Yazidi woman aged 57 poses in her house in Sinuni, Iraq. "I have been having mental health problems for 36 years, since my husband was killed as a soldier during the Iran-Iraq war. I had just given birth to my second son. I have depression. Whenever I stop taking my medicine, I think about suicide. I just want to stop the suffering." © Emilienne Malfatto / MSF

Khawla Khalaf, 30, poses in her house in Sinuni, Iraq

"When I was 18 I was forced to marry my cousin. That forced marriage was the start of my depression. I got used to my situation, but I will never forget what happened to me. On the day of my wedding, I was angry and sad, I cried the whole time. Our financial situation also makes things worse. We are poor, and I cannot provide for my children. Sometimes they ask me for something and I cannot buy it for them. I also cannot forget events I witnessed during the genocide: a mother with two babies, saying ‘if I feed the first one, the second one will die’. About a year ago, I was pregnant with my fourth child and I was crying all the time. I was thinking a lot about suicide. My husband was worried. He said: ‘if you kill yourself I will commit suicide too, because I cannot live without you’. I finally went to the hospital in Sinuni. Today, I am better. But whenever I am alone, I start thinking about suicide. I am afraid I will kill myself."


Seve Mirza, 31, poses in her house in Sinuni, Iraq. "I have migraines and pain in all my body. I am always sweating. I feel like I cannot control myself. I start talking and cannot stop. I feel my body is heavy. I had some problems before the 2014 genocide, but it’s become worse since then. We were in IDP camps near Dohuk for three years. Because of the trauma of the genocide, my mother got blind, then she got cancer, then she died. And I got worse." © Emilienne Malfatto / MSF

Halo Khalaf, 66, poses in her house in Sinuni, Iraq

"We are originally from the South of Mount Sinjar. I have no children. My husband died before the genocide. Before 2014, I was living with my only brother Khader and his family. Khader was kidnapped by ISIS and never returned. We were actually kidnapped together, but I escaped after 20 days in captivity. I keep waiting for Khader. I wait for all the abducted ones to come back. So many people in my family have been kidnapped. Almost all my brother’s family has been kidnapped. Some came back, some didn’t. One of my nephews is currently with ISIS in Al-Hol camp in Syria. He has been brainwashed, he changed his name and doesn’t want to come back. I just want the kidnapped ones would come back. My dream is to save them. I pray everyday for God to bring back my brother. Before the genocide, I didn’t have any psychological problems, or health problems. Now I must take a lot of medication. I have mental health problems, kidney problems, high blood pressure, colon problems… I always feel like ISIS is coming. When I sleep, I wake up with a start. I cannot see clearly because I cry a lot. I feel pain in my whole body. I am not happy."


Sawsan Othman Khudeda, 40, poses in her tent on Mount Sinjar, Iraq. "I am a mother of 10. Three of my children are disabled. We live in an IDP tent on Sinjar Mountain. Sometimes we don’t get water for three days. During the summer, it’s terribly hot. During the winter, it’s terribly cold, and the rains damage everything. Winter is very hard here. Before the genocide we had a house in Sinuni. ISIS blew it up. We don’t have the money to rebuilt it, so we are forced to stay here, in those conditions. I first went to the mental health consultation for my disabled daughter, she is aggressive and suicidal. And I became a patient myself. I am overthinking all the time because of my disabled children and our living conditions. For that reason, I cannot sleep. Before the genocide, we worked as daily workers in orchards, we could make some money. Here, there is no work, no money. Two of my sons still work as daily workers - when there is work, we have some income. But, often, there is nothing." © Emilienne Malfatto / MSF

Hassan Khudeda Qasim, 51, poses in his home on Sinjar mountain, Iraq

"I have been living on the mountain all my life. My family used to be rich, but then three of my brothers got in a bad situation and we became poor 17 years ago. That is when my problems started. I have psychosis. I have been taking medication since 2002. I am angry and upset all the time. I am overthinking all the time. I have insomnia and headache. If I don’t take my medication, I become scared and angry and sometimes violent with my children. When that happens, my wife and children are afraid of being around me. I like to be alone. I have suicidal thoughts. Since 2014, my problems have worsened. We were on the mountain then escaped to Syria. We were IDPs in Kurdistan for two years then came back to Sinjar. I have six children and no job. We are very poor."


A Yazidi boy, aged 13, sits in his house in Sinuni Iraq. "I used to be all the time with my father. Now he has joined an armed group, and he is not around. I feel lonely all the time. I don’t go anywhere, I am always in that room, in that house. I feel sad. I have no friends. Before the genocide, we were living on the southern side of the mountain. When ISIS came we escaped to the mountain, we stayed on the mountain then escaped to Syria, then Kurdistan. We came back in 2016. When I went to the hospital in Sinuni, I asked them to keep me there. I don’t want to be home." © Emilienne Malfatto / MSF

A Yazidi man aged 24 poses in his tent on Mount Sinjar, Iraq

"We are from the South of the mountain, close to Sinjar City. After the genocide, we stayed for one year in an IDP camp in Kurdistan, then we came here, to the mountain. I live in this tent with my family, my parents, my wife, my brother, my nephews… It is very, very difficult to live here. The living conditions are very hard. It’s either too hot or too cold. The latrines are shared and disgusting. There is no work here. I work with an armed group and make 300 USD a month. I am never happy. I am always upset. I cannot hang out with my friends because I can’t pretend to be happy. Depression is very hard. I feel like I am melting - and indeed I have lost a lot of weight. I affects my whole body. I also forget a lot of things.

I keep thinking about things I saw, or heard, about the genocide. Children who died. Children who were killed by ISIS and then ISIS cooked them and gave the ‘meat’ to their mothers.
I tried to kill myself three times: by drowning, with a gun, and with a knife. Each time, I was stopped. Since then, my family is worried about me, and I feel guilty because of that. It just makes things worse. I don’t want to take medication because it has too much side effects. I would like a magic pill to make all of what happened disappear, and make things good again. In those living conditions, it’s not easy to get better. Every single night I cry myself to sleep. Nothing makes me happy in life. There is no happiness in this life. If I am alive or dead, it’s the same thing."


Noora Saleh, 26, sits in her house in Zorava, Iraq. "When I was living in Kurdistan as an IDP, I fell off the stairs one day and was taken to the hospital. That was the beginning of everything. I saw several doctors who diagnosed me with several things, from brain infection to mental health problems. Finally, I was put on a lot, a lot of mental health drugs. I was taking more than six different medicines a day. But I feel those medicine made me crazy, they had so many side effects on me, I was shaking all the time, feeling dizzy and unable to stand up. I was just in the hospital in Sinuni, I was discharged today. They stopped all the medication. I feel so guilty because the family spent a lot of money for my health. I feel ashamed. I am nervous, and I get angry when I think about this situation. I think a lot about how I made life difficult for my husband. We had to borrow money to go see specialists in Kurdistan, and to buy the medicine. My husband works in an armed group and he stayed home with me because he was worried. Maybe he’ll get fired because of me." © Emilienne Malfatto / MSF

Amina Ismail Elias, 20, poses in her house on Mount Sinjar, Iraq

"I am very very depressed. Medication makes me sleepy to I stopped taking the pills. I didn’t go to school at all, don’t know how to read or write. I don’t do anything, not even house chores. About 20 days ago, I tried to kill myself by cutting my wrists. When we were IDPs in Kurdistan I tried to set myself on fired and to get killed by a car. Why? I don’t really know. I am depressed. It started six years ago when one of my uncles was killed. Sometimes I faint and remain unconscious. I am always falling. I have pain in my skull from falling so much. Sometimes, I sit like that, and stay like that for hours. In 2014, we had to flee, but I don’t remember anything from that time. I blocked all the memories. Whenever I fight with someone, especially my father, I think about suicide. I just want to be like before, to be normal. I would give half of my lifetime to be normal."


Badal Khudeda Qasim, 72, pose in his brother’s house on Mount Sinjar, Iraq. "I get very agressive sometimes. I have been taking anti-psychotic medicine for the past 5 years. I am not married. I am thinking all the time." © Emilienne Malfatto / MSF

Gule Suleiman, around 45, poses in her house in Sinuni, Iraq

"I had 7 children, but one died. Then my son Shahab emigrated to Europe and life was so difficult there for him, he started to be in a bad situation, he was depressed and drinking. This was the cause of my bad situation. I have been having tachycardia and insomnia, because I was so worried about him. Shahab is back here now. If he feels better, I feel better. But when he gets angry, I feel short of breath. I am thinking about him all the time. Sometimes, at night, I think about him, about the fact that he is not all right, and I can’t sleep. I take sleeping pills."