As a Yezidi community activist, Faisal* was constantly exposed to stories including the genocide, rape, killing, and torture of his people comitted by ISIS leaving Faisal experiencing symptoms of emotional trauma. However, with psychological support facilitated by SEED for him and his family, he has improved his mental health significantly and enabled him to return to his work.

Like most Yezidis targeted by the Islamic State (ISIS) starting in 2014, Faisal* fled his homeland and sought shelter in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, where the 35-year-old became an activist and supporter for other Yezidis who survived the extremists’ atrocities. Faisal raised awareness, solved community problems, connected individuals with resources, and provided emotional support. 

Faisal was well known in his community and was appreciated by many, including leaders. Having been displaced for nearly five years himself and worked so hard to address the needs of others, Faisal slowly began to experience mental health symptoms such as depression, anxiety, anger, etc. He started to isolate himself from others and lost his social connection to his tight-knit community. He and his wife also began to have marital problems. Management at the camp where he was staying referred him to SEED Foundation at the beginning of 2019. 

He was provided with case management services which included psychoeducation on vicarious trauma — the result of Faisal hearing about other Yezidis’ traumatic experiences and the media discussing ISIS incidents. Anne Lepelaars, SEED’s Mental Health Technical Advisor, explains that vicarious trauma is the emotional residue of exposure that counselors have from working with people as they are hearing their trauma stories and become witnesses to the pain, fear, and terror that trauma survivors have endured.

Normalizing his trauma and rebuilding his relationship with his wife, while educating her about Faisal’s mental health symptoms were important parts of the sessions with a psychologist. Faisal, himself, was also provided with a psychologist for individual therapy. The psychologist utilized visualization interventions to help him with coping and learning to detach in order to protect his own mental health when he hears very traumatic stories or experiences from others. Psychoeducation also was provided to help teach him about symptoms and the effects. Psychoeducation is used to deepen a person’s understanding of mental health and mental illnesses, especially if the person is experiencing the symptoms themselves. It is a key component in all MHPSS, as knowledge and information form the basis for empowerment.

Additionally, art therapy techniques were utilized as a means of self expression and emotion regulation. Through these interventions and SEED’s support, Faisal seems to be functioning better and is able to practice skills that were taught to him. Additionally, he has been able to reconnect with his wife and continue to help support other Yezidis who are struggling more than five years after ISIS began its atrocities. 

*Name and minor details have been changed to protect client confidentiality