Above, Dr. Nsaif al-Hemiary, Winnie Mitchell, Administrator Pamela Hyde, and Dr. Sabah Sadik at the Iraqi Cultural Center.
Healing Beyond Borders
The Iraq-SAMHSA Initiative, which began in 2008, has sponsored teams of Iraqi behavioral health providers to the United States. While here, these providers have an opportunity to observe various services they may want to activate in Iraq. In addition, Iraqi providers share clinical insights with their U.S. colleagues on ways to improve services in both countries.
The initiative has resulted in a sharing of ideas that has been beneficial to all participants. Importantly, the Iraqi teams have reported real progress.
In the spring of 2004, SAMHSA formed the Planning Group on Iraq Mental Health to help Iraq’s Ministry of Health re-establish behavioral health services in Iraq (see SAMHSA News May/June 2004).
SAMHSA sponsored two Action Planning Conferences on Iraq Mental Health in 2005 and 2006 in Amman, Jordan, and Cairo, Egypt, bringing together mental health professionals from throughout Iraq to plan behavioral health services. There they identified substance abuse, forensics, services for children and adolescents, and on-going trauma, as the country’s behavioral health priorities.
Five teams visited the United States in 2008. In the fall of 2010, six more teams visited. The Iraqi teams in both 2008 and 2010 visited trauma services, substance abuse services, and children’s mental health services. In 2008, teams also visited mental health services for the elderly and community-based rehabilitation services.
Two Iraqi teams recently visited a variety of award-winning trauma-informed care and services sites on the East Coast. The team on substance abuse services was hosted by the INOVA Fairfax Comprehensive Addiction Treatment Services program (CATS) and the Pacific Southwest Addiction Technology Transfer Center at UCLA. Johns Hopkins University again hosted an Iraqi team on school-based mental health services, and the Children’s National Medical Center hosted a team on services for mothers and children with serious mental illnesses.
In addition, Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene/Forensic Services hosted a team from Baghdad this fall on forensic psychiatric services.
SAMHSA’s Planning Group on Iraq Mental Health includes Dr. Sabah Sadik, co-chair (at right), and James Haveman (left).
The Iraq-SAMHSA Initiative has resulted in a sharing of ideas that has been beneficial to both the U.S. and Iraqi participants. All of the Iraqi teams have reported real progress. The 2008 team on community-based rehabilitation services put community service teams in place that include family members as paid team members. The two 2010 teams here to observe trauma services have been incorporating trauma-informed care into their hospital and outpatient services, and the substance abuse team is working with their U.S. host sites to participate in a 1-year substance abuse treatment certificate program at the University of Cairo.
U.S. providers have reported noteworthy lessons from their Iraqi colleagues, including that U.S. programs need to increase the involvement of families and communities, and that “Recurring or Ongoing Trauma” may be a more appropriate characterization for much of the trauma experienced in conflict regions and under other circumstances such as domestic violence.
For more information on this innovative partnership, the participating U.S. host sites, and the ongoing technical assistance that is a hallmark of this activity, contact Winnie Mitchell, SAMHSA’s International Officer, at Winnie.firstname.lastname@example.org.