War takes heavy toll on Yemeni children's mental wellbeing
Muhand is a seven-year-old, living in the war-devastated Taiz province. The war has changed his personality entirely, Muhand's mother said.
Speaking to The New Arab, she said: "He was a happy and funny child. Today, he is fearful, and he has lost the sense of peace since the breakout of clashes in 2015."
Muhand has been hearing airstrikes, explosions and clashes in his environment, rendering him to live to a constant nightmare. He is growing up surrounded by violence and absence of peace with little or no opportunity to have access to psychological health care.
"Muhand is bedwetting during the night, and sometimes screams while sleeping. He wakes up terrified, and I hug him and tell him no worry. He returns to sleep again," said the mother.
|Seven-year-old Muhand is bedwetting during the night, and sometimes screams while sleeping|
After over three years of war, Yemen has become the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, the European Union said this month.
Thousands of children like Muhand bear the brunt of the bloody war and far-fetched peace. While cases regarding malnutrition among children and child recruitment have been reported abundantly, reports on the psychological effects of war on children seem to be short.
Early this year, the UN children's agency said the war in Yemen has killed or injured over 5,000 children, leaving another 400,000 severely malnourished and fighting for their lives.
"Those who survive are likely to carry the physical and psychological scars of conflict for the rest of their lives," the agency said.
In a study conducted this year by Family Counselling and Development Foundation in Yemen, over five million people in Yemen have been found to be psychologically affected by the war.
|The war in Yemen has killed or injured over 5,000 children, leaving another 400,000 severely malnourished and fighting for their lives|
Last year, Yemen Children Relief, a local relief organisation, carried out a study finding a clear difference in the intensity of psychological symptoms among children in diverse provinces.
The study revealed that the psychological effects of war vary from one child to another, stating that 5 percent of children suffer from bedwetting, 2 percent returned to stuttering, 47 percent suffer from psychological disorders, 24 percent have difficulty in concentration and 17 percent have a bout of panic.
According to the study, children in Sanaa, Aden, Taiz and Abyan showed a high level of fear, insecurity, anxiety and anger.
Among the children targeted by the study, 31 percent of them suffered physical symptoms, including headache, chest pain, abdominal pain and exhaustion which researchers attributed to psychological distress.
Clashes spark cries and tears
Eleven-year-old Lamia lives in Taiz, a city racked by armed clashes and relentless siege for three years.
In December last year, a shell hit a room where Lamia was sleeping in her father's house.
"A RPG bullet penetrated the wall of the room, and the bullet was a few centimetres away from Lamia's head," her father, Jalal Khaled, told The New Arab, remembering the attack.
"When the bullet hit the room, Lamia awakened. The dust flew on her face, and she darted towards another room, crying loudly. Her tears were pouring," her father adds.
"Fortunately, she was physically unharmed. Today, Lamia panics and cries when she hears armed clashes, and she does not want to go outside."
Khaled said his daughter was lucky as she did not sustain a physical injury, but the psychological effect has not faded away so far.
"A child does not easily forget the bad times, and this makes the trauma linger on the behaviour of the child," Lamia's father added.
Nowadays, the health situation stands at its worst with 14.8 million people in need of basic healthcare (OCHA).
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1,900 out of 3,507 health facilities in 16 governorates are either non-functional or partially functioning. This situation signifies the difficulty in accessing general health care, let alone mental health care.
|A child does not easily forget the bad times, and this makes the trauma linger on the behaviour of the child|
Severe psychological blows
Samira Qasem, a psychologist, said that the scenes of violence in Yemen have affected the behaviour of children, leaving long-term psychological impacts on them.
"When children get exposed to violent scenes, when they face death and see blood, they suffer from severe psychological blows. The continue to imagine the horror especially if they continue to live in a conflict-stricken area," said Qasem.
Speaking to The New Arab, Qasem said that the bad experiences make children develop behavioural disorders such as severe stress, confusion, a tendency towards isolation, anxiety, fear, nightmares, bedwetting, aggressiveness and difficulty in concentration.
Qasem indicated that countless people of Yemen have experienced serious trauma and threats from armed militias, torture, airstrikes, landmines and arbitrary detention.
"When it comes to children, parents alone are responsible for their psychological wellbeing as there is no government support to assist families address the issues of traumatised kids in wartime," said Qasem.
The writer is a Yemeni journalist, reporting from Yemen, whose identity we are protecting for their security.