The loss of trust
“I am not a psychologist,” emphasizes Wisam. “But what I saw working with the people during the displacement and afterward alarmed me: People cannot get rid of the anger inside of them, triggering conflicts in families; people suffer from sleeplessness, substance abuse and [thoughts of] suicide, especially among young people.”
The brutality of what happened under the Islamic State group is still impacting the entire region. “After [the Islamic State group’s atrocities], people lost their trust. Their trust in each other, their trust in the future, and even their trust in God,” he explains. “You have to imagine that some people lived next to their neighbors for 40 years, but when the Islamic State group came, the neighbors didn’t help [the Christians]; even worse, [the neighbors] stole from the Christians’ houses after they’d fled. If you cannot trust people that you see—how can you trust God, someone you don’t see?”
The spiritual and emotional toll is plain to see.
Vian is a 35-year-old social worker from the same region as Wisam. Her town of Al Kosh was never taken by the Islamic State group, but it was so close to the frontline that her bags were always packed to flee. Vian recognizes what the monk says about God from her own experience. “When people used to tell me about God’s existence, I would be like, but what about the suffering, the torture, the displacement?” she wonders. “It is only through actively working through my trauma that I have been able to see the presence of God in all this.”
But dealing with mental health and addressing trauma is not common in Iraq. “As a society, we don’t accept the concept of trauma,” Vian explains. “We see people who are mentally ill as either crazy or lazy.”
Even so, it’s obvious there’s a desperate need. “Even in countries with peace, people experience trauma, for instance by violent incidents or huge losses,” Vian says. “Here in Iraq, those things are happening constantly: There were so many conflicts during my lifetime that I cannot even count them.”
And so, Open Doors helped start a counseling school.