By HH Sheikha Intisar AlSabah. Founder and Chairwoman of Intisar Foundation, member of Kuwait’s Ruling House.
Trauma is a consequence of being exposed to an experience that exceeds one’s ability to cope with or integrate the emotions involved, leaving long-term negative consequences on the brain. Another explanation that I also appreciate is that it is a rupture in meaning making, a discrepancy between appraised and global meaning of a situation that affects the person’s sense of the world as meaningful and their own life as worthwhile.
There are many potential causes of trauma over our lifetime, but wars definitely create a wide variety of traumatic events that result in many people developing different types and degrees of post-traumatic and/or mental disorders. The World Health Organisation states that 1 in 11 (9%) people who have experienced war or other conflict in the previous 10 years, will have a moderate or severe mental disorder, and that 1 in 5 (22%) people living in an area affected by conflict is estimated to have depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia.
I fall into a sub-category of people who were left with anger and violent feelings, even towards my children, after living through the state of war and all other traumatic events that happened in connection to it. I still remember that my every waking minute was consumed with fear of everything and everyone.
I also fall into a sub-category of people who consider themselves healed from it.
I know that I am not alone in this unusual box of how I choose to describe myself for the purpose of this article, but sadly, I also believe that the box is not crowded.
How did I get to this? To begin with, I was one of many who received the traditional humanitarian aid response which, until this day, includes the delivery of human, medical, food, shelter, water sanitation, and hygiene resources, but not any kind of psychological support – neither in the immediate aftermath of the traumatic experience I went through, nor later.
Over the years, I have been blessed with faith, mindset, willpower, and perseverance to subject myself to psychological support that has enabled me to eventually fulfill all the parameters of how mental health is defined today.
Yet, whenever I sit in a meeting to discuss psychological support programmes for women affected by war and to explore how these are linked to Peacebuilding, I cannot help but wonder how different my life would have been if my psychological recovery had started much earlier than it actually did. In a split second, my mind starts listing the implications that this lack of timely and adequate mental health care back then, as well as for many years later, had on my psychological wellbeing and, for instance, on the wellbeing of my children.
However, I am not talking only from personal experience when I say that a person traumatised by the brutality of war and violence can rebuild their lives, revitalise their families, and spread peace in their communities, in a very short period of time – if and when given proper psychological support.
In 2021, I have evidence that further supports us advocating the inclusion of psychological support programmes to people, and especially women, affected by war into international humanitarian aid and all our peacebuilding efforts, including international and national war and disaster preparedness and emergency plans.
Source: A pilot study conducted by Intisar Foundation in Shatila Refugee Camp in Lebanon between 2019 and 2020 using psychometric scales.
The international community has been exploring innovative ways in which international organisations, donors, governments, and local non-governmental organizations can contribute to better conflict prevention and management, Peacebuilding and reconciliation.
However, one formula is simple but easily overlooked – offering immediate mental health support to survivors of war, and especially women among them, is the innovation in Peacebuilding that we need. Therefore, we must make mental health support an integral part of international humanitarian aid and any international and national war and disaster preparedness and emergency plans.
We must do it because, in 2021, we know that, if not treated, mental health issues increase with age and deprive war and disaster-affected populations of ever fully perceiving a future of Peace, stability, and hope for themselves and their families.
We must do it because, in 2021, we are sad to witness that many of the world’s emergencies have become longer-lasting and increasingly harder to address, exposing conflict and disaster-affected populations to years and decades of repeatedly experiencing psychological distress.
Intisar Foundation has been supporting Arab women traumatised by war and violence with its culturally competent, neuroscience-based, and socially impactful psychological support programme based on drama therapy.
One of our current research projects analyses how tackling the psychological impact of trauma on women affected by war leads to their lower levels of aggression and higher impulse control at home, which then reduces the danger of them maltreating their children, and consequently, reduces the children developing any maladaptive behaviours that might lead to violence in the future. In this way, where there was conflict, we manage to raise Peaceful children.
The Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO declares that “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”
I would humbly add that “since our evidence shows that Peace begins in the minds of women, it is the minds of women that we need to support for Peace to flow forth to reach and affect all of humanity.”
For further information:
Intisar Foundation: https://intisarfoundation.org
Images by Intisar Foundation