Iraq: New research highlights link between FGM/C and mental disorders

New data out of Iraq shows what many psychologists suspected though little research has confirmed: Girls who have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) are more prone to mental disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Results of the research - conducted by Jan Ilhan Kizilhan of the University of Freiburg, an expert in psychotraumatology (psychotherapy for people who have suffered extreme trauma) - were published in the April-June 2011 edition of the European Journal of Psychiatry.

Kizilhan found “alarmingly high rates” of PTSD (44 percent), depression (34 percent), anxiety (46 percent) and somatic disturbances (mental disorders whose symptoms are unexplainable physical illnesses - 37 percent) among a group of 79 circumcised girls in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, aged 8-14, who did not otherwise suffer any traumatic events.

These rates were up to seven times higher than among non-circumcised girls from the same region and were comparable to rates among people who suffered early childhood abuse.

Last year, shortly after receiving the results of the research, Kizilhan said, the Kurdish parliament in northern Iraq banned FGM/C.

He told IRIN he hopes the results will also lead to more and better treatment of PTSD among girls who have undergone FGM/C, using special techniques which include the family in the process as much as possible.

The existence of FGM/C in the Middle East is less known than in Africa. Estimates of the prevalence of FGM/C in Iraqi Kurdistan vary wildly depending on the province, but surveys have indicated the overall figure could be around 40 percent. The region is home to five million people, but has just 13 psychologists and only one with expertise in psychotherapy, Kizilhan said.

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