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Drones Impact on Mental Health in Pakistan

The United States has waged a drone campaign in Pakistan since the early 2000’s. The Waziristan region in northern Pakistan has been a specific target due to the major presence of the Taliban in the area. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London released a report indicating that drone strikes carried out by the U.S. have killed 3,581 people since 2004. That number includes 884 civilians and 197 children. Unsurprisingly, this has led to a rise in mental health issues.

The Huffington Post reported a story of a man who lost nine friends and relatives in one attack in 2009. While Mohammed Fahim was in another room, a drone hit his house, killing everyone else instantly. Fahim insists that his family had no ties to Islamist militancy, but instead that this was an attack that went astray.

Residents in Waziristan complain of living in a constant fear of drones, specifically citing the buzzing sound they emit when they fly overhead. This fear is leading to a rise in depression, anxiety, and in some cases psychotic episodes. Doctor Muktar ul-Haq is the head of psychiatry at a government hospital in the city of Peshawar. He told a story of a man who had a full blown psychotic episode after he found a SIM card outside of his house. A common rumor in Pakistan is that SIM cards emit signals to drones, guiding their attack. Haq said when the man was admitted he was “aggressive and paranoid.”

The social problems that plague Pakistan, such as poverty, Taliban violence, and unemployment, contribute to the rise in depression and anxiety. With all of these other problems, mental health falls to the bottom of the list. There are no official statistics about the rise in mental health issues, but some psychiatrists treating people in the region estimate that rates psychological illnesses have risen three fold.

Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: Huffington Post, The Atlantic
Photo: CS Monitor