Relentless Afghan conflict leaves traumatized generation

On a low bed in a quiet, all-female hospital ward, a depressed Afghan teenager huddles silently under blankets, her mother close by. In a nearby room are men suffering from schizophrenia, delusions of persecution and power, anxiety and panic disorders.

Among them are some of the unseen victims of the war in Afghanistan: a generation of people mentally damaged by their exposure to incessant conflict.

The accumulation of psychological problems could begin to undermine national reconstruction and development, say health workers at the country's only facility for treating mental illness.

Ghazia Sadid, a 26-year-old mother, endured depression for years after a family member was killed in a bomb attack, and she fled her home in fear of more violence.

I still hear the sounds of explosions. I still remember the fighting, but since I have come here my behaviour has changed, she said, speaking at the Kabul Mental Health Hospital, a green-walled building on the outskirts of the city.

I was totally lost and my life was over. After two years of treatment, now I love my children, she said. I loved them then too, but in my imagination I had done something wrong.

The concept of mental illness is alien to many in Afghanistan, where the public health system, like much of the country's infrastructure, has been wrecked by decades of war.

Frequently, people suffering psychological disorders are thought by their families to be under the influence of malign spirits, or showing symptoms of a physical ailment.

The Kabul hospital, which has 60 beds for in-patients and another 40 in a separate facility for drug addicts, is run by the government in partnership with U.S.-based nonprofit group the International Medical Corps. It gets funding from the European Union.

Psychologists working there say children who have known nothing but fighting since the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban government more than a decade ago are especially vulnerable.

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