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Overcoming mental health issues in Afghanistan

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War and violence leave people not only with physical but also psychological injuries. HealthNet TPO, with European Union funding, works with local mental health facilities to support people in need of care.

These three stories from Afghanistan describe how inspiring individuals managed to overcome their mental health issues with the psychological support of HealthNet TPO. With renewed strength, today they are able to contribute to the long-term resilience of their conflict-deprived communities.

Coping with deep grief

One night, armed opposition groups arrived at the house of Mr. Shameer in Nangarhar Province. His son, who was 18 years old, was immediately shot at the gate, Mr. Shameer came too late to prevent his death.

Mr. Shameer was unable to cope with the loss of his son. In the following months, he suffered from sleep disorders. He drifted away from his family. His health deteriorated, and he stopped working and taking part in social life.

One day his wife brought him to a clinic run by HealthNet TPO in Jalalabad city. Support from a psychosocial counsellor helped Mr. Shameer manage his stress and come to terms with his grief. As his mental wellbeing improved, he became once again able to engage socially and started supporting his family again.

Mr. Shameer with psychosocial counselor during individual counseling session in Najmul Jehad clinic
Mr. Shameer with psychosocial counselor during individual psychosocial counseling session in Najmul Jehad clinic

Escaping a spiral of violence and suicidal thoughts

Ms. Saima was 20 years old when she found herself suffering from depression in a seemingly hopeless situation. Her husband had died and she experienced recurring family violence. No longer seeing a way to escape her situation, she took insecticidal drugs, attempting to commit suicide.

After the incident, her family rushed her to psychiatrists and psychosocial counsellors from HealthNet TPO. Ms. Saima opened up about her experiences of domestic violence:I am exhausted with my life and I don’t want to live any longer”. 

HealthNet TPO created and implemented a comprehensive care plan to improve Ms. Saima’s health, family and social wellbeing. Psychologists provided several individual and group counselling sessions to her and her family members.

Through the psychological treatment, Ms. Saima was empowered to manage and reduce her depression. Her mind-set and thoughts improved, and she became more optimistic about her future. Her family members also changed their behaviour and began treating her with respect.

Ms. Saima in Asad Abad Provincial Hospital for follow up and counseling
Ms. Saima in Asad Abad Provincial Hospital for follow up and counseling

Overcoming Anxiety

Ms. Shafiqa is 30 years old and has five children. Since she got married ten years ago, her life has become more difficult and she suffers from severe anxiety. She talks about her husband who is a soldier with the national security forces: “He was captured by the Taliban about two months ago. After he was freed from the Taliban, my husband re-joined the security forces so he could continue to support our family.”

The family even pledged their house to support themselves. Ms. Shafiqa adds: “I am always frightened and worried about my husband. I am waiting for a bad incident that my husband may be again kidnapped by the Taliban, and killed by them. I beat my children for no reason and there are negative changes in my behaviour.”

To overcome her anxiety, Ms Shafiqa visited a health facility in Kabul province. After the investigation, she received several individual counselling sessions by a psychologist from the health facility, trained by HealthNet TPO.

The counselling supported her in coping with anxiety and the fear of loss. To gain her own money and independently support her family, Ms Shafiqa now works on a bee farm. She says: “Despite various challenges, all women can contribute to her life, her family life, and to her homeland’s happiness and prosperity”.

Ms. Shafiq with psychosocial counselor during individual counseling session
Ms. Shafiq with psychosocial counselor during individual counseling session

About the project

HealthNet TPO's mission is to strengthen healthcare systems and prevent, diagnose and treat diseases. The organisation is an expert in the field of psychosocial and mental health care for survivors of war and natural disasters.

In 2019, HealthNet TPO successfully trained 326 psychosocial counsellors in Afghanistan, working in comprehensive health centres across 32 provinces. The one-year intensive training programme was funded by the EU.