Post-traumatic stress disorder in Kuwait

Post-traumatic stress disorder in Kuwait

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THESIS: Studies made by experts found after the liberation of Kuwait following the Gulf War of 1991 that most children who were inside the country experienced undesirable emotions simultaneously which brought out more abnormal behaviors.


In the oppressively hot summer of 1990 the second of August to be exact, people were sleeping peacefully in their homes. It was a Thursday morning and most Kuwaitis had left the country on holiday. No one ever suspected or believed that a neighboring country of the same religion would invade such a small innocent country.

Most of the Kuwaiti citizens who were inside the country or outside were in shock. This Iraqi occupation that Kuwait suffered for seven months was dramatically experienced by both adults and children. They were exposed to such brutal atrocities as executing anyone who had a typewriter or a camera so that no one in the outside world would know how indecently they were treating a neighboring country. Plus any interference in Sadaam's military actions resulted in hundreds of patriots who fought bravely for the freedom of their country.

The Iraqi soldiers tried to terrorize the Kuwaiti people by subjecting them to different types of torture techniques like raping virgin females and mothers in front of their children. Rape was practiced not only on females but young males too. Many Kuwaiti civilian men, women and children were taken from their homes and never returned to their families. There are still 625 Kuwaiti hostages in Iraq. This number means much to a small community where every family is related to a POW. The people who suffered less are those who lost their homes, money and other valuables. All those terrors of war have now caused what is called Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (Second International Conference, Mental Health in the State of Kuwait). People suffered from this brutal and fateful period when the country was under occupation, either by being forced to start over from scratch or by working in a new job, building a new house. Many people fell into poverty. Also the thought that their country no longer existed during the invasion had a very difficult mental effect on the people. They could not believe the reality that their country was being occupied. This idea was especially traumatic for older people. The behaviors and emotions of Kuwaitis under such war-like circumstances are not new to psychology.

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For example, people who experienced the same war situations in the Vietnam war are still suffering thirty years later from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Similarly, the situation for Israelis produced sufferers of PTSD by the continuous worrying over their territory and by those who survived from the holocaust and the concentration camps in the Second World War. It has been found that war-like circumstances have the worst effects on people who experience them. Plus, the time that a person would realize the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder is not directly after the war but possibly many years after the event. It can even take longer to get over PTSD, even years to be cured. Further studies conducted on the causes of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have indicated that people who were exposed to direct physical or mental torture may experience psychological effects, which increase over a period of time and cause undesirable behavior (SDO 17).

The people of Kuwait tasted some of these bitter war torture techniques at the hands of the Iraqi regime. People witnessed physical abuse, rape, murder, electric torture and sexual torture. The Iraqi regime intended to terrorize the Kuwaiti population and created ‘living dead’ victims who were destroyed physically and/or psychologically.

The Kuwaiti government has had a particular interest in helping its people overcome the traumatic effects of the war. A number of studies were made after the invasion of the Iraqi regime on the Kuwaiti population. The Social Development Office (SDO) was established in Kuwait after the war with the mission to gather information and research on the relevant topics of psychological aspects caused by the Iraqi aggression, and to rehabilitate the Kuwaiti identity to become secure and resume the progress of reconstruction (Dr. Al-rashidi 11). In 1991 the Social Service Department of the Ministry of Higher Education in Kuwait conducted several studies in schools of children between the ages of six to seventeen who suffered in the war with Iraq. The study found both behavioral and emotional adjustment problems among the children.

Dr. Alhammadi, a specialist in posttraumatic stress who opened a clinic in 1991, has seen many patients especially people with mental and physical disability. Mental disability is the most common damaging effect for Kuwait’s population since the war. So in other words there are fewer people with physical disability than those who are suffering from mental disability. Dr. Al-hammadi, says, "beneath the apparent return to normality Kuwait is nursing a series of scars and festering sores. It is difficult to know if and when the Kuwaiti people will recover. There is also the stress of people who are waiting for the 625 men, women and children who are the prisoners of war but whose whereabouts has not been discovered. The disapearance of so many people affects each and every family in Kuwait" (qtd. in Lancaster 35).

Experts have identified a number of different unhealthy emotions felt by those who lived through the occupation. The emotions themselves are not particularly different or unique from what children experience in many other situations. However, in this PTSD context, the Kuwaiti children are experiencing a number of these emotions simultaneously and with greater intensity. And this intensity, if left untreated, increases with time.

Anxiety is the most common aspect of post-traumatic stress disorder especially in children. It is an unpleasant emotional state. It is frequently followed by physiological symptoms that may lead to fatigue or even exhaustion. People were found to be tense and fearful. They were extremely vigilant and startled easily. These conditions normally found in people after severe states either in an unstable family matters or natural disasters but mostly war effects are the most serious and dangerous in anxiety (Second International Conference, Mental Health in the State of Kuwait). According to Okasha (1988), anxiety refers to a condition of predominant tension and apprehension, and experienced mentally and physically (qtd. in Second International Conference, Mental Health in the State of Kuwait).

Another study was made in 1992 by Al-kheraphi concerning anxiety trait-state in children of Kuwait. It was found that there were no anxiety trait differences between both sexes; however, there were differences in the level of anxiety between the children of martyrs and the children of prisoners of war. This is due to the fact the children of martyrs know the tragic fate of their families, while the children of the POWs always wonder what is happening to their parents or relatives.

In addition to anxiety a number of other unhealthy emotions were identified in a study made by the Kuwaiti government. Frustration was one of the major psychological disturbances noted.

Frustration grew out of confusion among the children about what was really going on. A common question asked by many children was whether or not their country existed anymore. For many children, their world was turned upside down. Children were forced to deal with situations and issues more commonly experienced by adults, thus pushing them into early maturity (Second Mental Conference, Mental Health in the State of Kuwait 136).

Related to frustration, insecurity is another prominent unstable emotion among the Kuwaiti children who lived through the invasion. Insecurity along with lack of trust are common especially in young children who watched their fathers or mothers taken by the Iraqi troops. Also for some children it was unbearable to think that their country was being occupied and that their military forces could not do anything to help in the first months of the war. Here the children started losing their trust in anyone even their parents (136).

The emotions of children would swing widely between love or hate. Children cannot express their right feelings properly. This would result in family problems.

Irritability is another aspect, where a person gets angry easily. In the study it was found that males are more irritable than females.

Nightmares became more common after the war by those who witnessed some horrendous situations. According to the research females are suffering more than males this perhaps related to the nature of their sex (136).

Terror and fear in children made them scared of crowded places and groups of people. A common confession that would be repeated is, "It can happen again". Children who faced terror or fear during the invasion would say this.

Other feelings may also contribute to a sense of pointlessness, for example, "Why bother to do my work? or Why go on?". Also depression and sadness take over the children as a dark cloud stealing the innocence of childhood to bring them to the harsh reality of adolescence. Survivor guilt also is a way that a child blames him/herself. For example, "why did I survive when they didn’t?" This is asked by children who lost a close person in the war (136).

Besides unhealthy emotions, experts have also focused on the behaviors of children that were undesirable. Aggression and violence were the most common after the war. Children tend to like military actions more and watch violent movies. Even in schools students terrorize their teachers if they did not give them good grades.

Some children are more introvert, shy and isolated. This is found more in females based on their nature and the culture. In schools it was found that there is a high rate of lack of concentration. This would result in poor grades. Even the inability in making simple decisions resulted in weak personalities. After the war there was a high rise in hyperactivity when someone becomes abnormally excited without a reason. Bed-wetting among children increased, along with thumb-sucking, making them feel secure (137).

In 1991 the Social Service Department of the Ministry of Higher Education in Kuwait made several studies in schools for children between the ages of six to seventeen who suffered in the war with the Iraqi violation. The studies reinforced the points made previously that Kuwaiti children were severely affected by the war, indicating different types of disorders, including such psychological adjustments as a sense of frustration, an inability to make decisions, indignation and contradiction in feelings of love and hatred, and an inability of concentration.

The effects noticed for the students in different educational levels were as follows: an increase in the state of psychopathy, insecurity (83.5%), aggressive behavior (54.6%), disregarding some values (42.1%), away from school discipline (29.7%), the discrimination between those who were inside or outside Kuwait, the psychological suffering for the children of captives, the missing and the martyrs (21.6%).

In kindergartens, the negative effects were the increased feeling of terror (61.1%), increase in aggressive behavior symptoms (55.6%), difficulty in adaptation to kindergarten (50%), the psychological disturbance (48.9%), using military games (47.8%), children absorption in fairy tales about crimes of looting (27.7%). The study also reveals the existence of positive effects on the kindergartners and the students in different levels between (76.2%) and (11%), these effects were manifested in the love of the country and some noble and social values, self-dependence and assumption of responsibility, the growth of the religious and political awareness of the situation (28.8%) (Second International Conference Mental Health in the State of Kuwait 24-25).

Another study was made by the UNICEF Organization through children’s drawings after the liberation. The drawings expressed pain depicting the scenes of corpses, blood, aircrafts, and other forms connected to the aggression. The percentages of the study were as follows: 72 percent of the children showed preference for violent movies, 62 percent were affected psychologically, 50 percent showed some symptoms of disturbance such as bad dreams, nightmares and fear. Also the study showed reference that the children of the captives and martyrs showed little sense of happiness, and a feeling of shyness also they had more sufferings from bad dreams and a tendency to solitude and avoidance of others. The Psychological Service Department in the Ministry of Education made a study on the secondary stage students about the reflections of the Iraqi aggression upon their psychological state. The numbers of students were 1012 from different schools, 50.5 percent were males and 49.5 percent were females. The results showed that the females were excessively introverted. On the other hand male students after the aggression had more self- confidence and more tendency of power and sway (Second International Conference, Mental Health in the State of Kuwait 25-30).

Studies continued in the post liberation era. Most of these studies have shown how deep the impact of the events were and how negative the effects of such aggression can be. The traumatic events have broken through the defense system of both children and adults resulting in a personality change and psychosomatic disorders (25-30).

The first point in the PTSD criteria is the exposure to unusual traumatic events which are beyond the human ability to handle what happened to the Kuwaiti population. There are different traumatic events the community can be exposed to. The Iraqi invasion was unexpected, sudden, brutal and the most traumatic event to the whole nation in general. This terrible experience to the people is associated with fear, helplessness and horror. After the liberation with the help of experts there were a few therapies and solutions that were taken into account to overcome this trauma and help the Kuwaiti nation with their sufferings (367).
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