America’s Afghan Exit Causes Mental Suffering at State Department

America's Afghan Exit Causes Mental Suffering at State Department America's Afghan Exit Causes Mental Suffering at State Department (Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty)

By Peter Malbin | Wednesday, 17 November 2021 02:31 PM

Side effects from the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan last summer has led to mental health issues for some State Department employees, Politico reports.

The mental anguish is partly the result of calls and emails State Department workers received from desperate Afghanis wanting to leave their country as the Taliban got closer and swiftly assumed power in August.

"The Taliban, you could hear them in the background. You could hear the women in the house screaming. It was awful," a State Department official said in an interview with Politico.

"It’s so scary. You don't know if you're going to be on the phone with someone when they get shot. You don't know if the email you're getting from that person is going to be the last email from them."

State Department staffers described to Politico being "manic" or suffering "a complete mental breakdown" at the time of the U.S.' hasty evacuation from Afghanistan and spoke of the need for mental health support in the aftermath.

The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan two weeks before the U.S. was set to complete its troop withdrawal after a two-decade war. The insurgents captured all major cities in a matter of days, as Afghan security forces trained and equipped by the U.S. and its allies gave up, the AP reported.

"During crises, like the Afghanistan withdrawal, we work to amplify the availability of these services and remind our employees that it is okay not to be okay and that asking for help is healthy,” said Ned Price, the State Department’s spokesperson.

"The mental health ramifications of the Afghanistan evacuation are not over — we expect employees to potentially have adverse mental health in the months and years to come."

The State Department released a statement to Politico that said Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s top priority was the health, safety, and well-being of department personnel and their families. Department officials said they made mental health professionals available to staffers in the United States and abroad, using therapy dogs, among other types of support. Many may have missed the notices on mental health because of their heavy workload.

The Veterans Administration made its suicide prevention support line available to members of the State Department, but State ultimately decided its services were not needed. A state department official said the help should have been taken. "It's a disgrace, and leadership should be ashamed of themselves."

As the crisis unfolded, the workload at the State Department was nonstop, further exacerbating mental health issues. Many State Department personnel have worked in Afghanistan over the course of the 20-year occupation and have personal relationships with people who were left behind there.

In some cases, employees may have chosen not to seek assistance because of a perception that seeking help could affect their medical or security clearance, Politico reported.

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