A mental health crisis builds among the women and girls of Afghanistan

Article by Rick Noack for the Washington Post

KABUL — Psychiatrist Shafi Azim spent much of his career attending to the trauma caused by two decades of fighting, which ripped apart buildings and families.

But over the past months, his hospital — Afghanistan’s primary mental health facility in Kabul — has filled with patients who say they are experiencing a different kind of suffering, he said. With the Taliban leadership severely restricting female education and work, there are mounting concerns about the mental health of girls and women. The restrictions and “sudden changes,” said Azim, appear to be at the root of the trauma suffered by most women and girls now seeking help at this hospital.

“They fear they will never be able to go back to work or school,” said Azim, 60. “They are isolated and become depressed.”


Mental health professionals at five Afghan hospitals and health centers shared similar accounts of a rising challenge. They said many women are receiving outpatient therapy and medication. Some have been encouraged by doctors to seek an escape in the shrinking number of activities that are still tolerated.

“As the circle of limitations and restrictions widens,” said a female mental health worker, “even women who were so far not directly impacted by the bans are now being dragged into it.”

The Taliban says that women’s lives have improved under its two-year rule. Supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada issued a ban on forced marriages shortly after taking power, and he vowed in a recent audio message that he wants women to live “comfortable” lives.

But many women tell a different story. A 29-year-old participating in an art workshop for girls and young women in Kabul said she is afraid of the moments when her fellow students say they are starting to feel better. “These days, it actually just means they have given up hoping for a better life,” said the woman, who like others interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

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