Former child soldiers are at high risk of developing mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); however, their comprehensive mental health has yet to be examined.
This study looks at the prevalence of PTSD, depression and associated risk factors such as disturbed self-esteem among former child soldiers of the so-called ‘Islamic State’.
The psychological effect of traumatic events was assessed in 81 Yazidi children who had been child soldiers for the Islamic State in northern Iraq between 2014 and 2017 for at least 6 months. The children were between 8 and 14 years of age. Thirty-two Yazidi boys and 31 Muslim boys who were not child soldiers in Iraq served as control groups. A structured psychological interview and established psychometric questionnaires were used to assess traumatisation and mental disorders.
The child soldiers showed a significantly higher prevalence of PTSD (48.3%), depressive disorders (45.6%), anxiety disorders (45.8%) and somatic disturbances (50.6%) than the boys who had not been child soldiers. Developmentally crucial self-esteem was significantly reduced in former child soldiers. No significant differences between the two control groups could be found.
PTSD and other mental disorders are highly present among former child soldiers in northern Iraq. The study highlights the huge and as yet unmet need for psychological services among former child soldiers.
Declaration of interest