Over three-quarters of Syrian refugees are believed to be suffering from serious mental health problems related to trauma, a charity has discovered 10 years after the revolution and civil war broke out in their country.
According to a report by the UK-based charity Syria Relief, a survey of 721 Syrians living in Lebanon, Turkey and the rebel-held north-west Syrian province of Idlib found that 84 per cent of them had at least seven out of fifteen major symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Although this was a limited sample of refugees given that millions have been displaced, the results show that poor mental health is a serious issue and probably far more widespread than was previously thought. Such symptoms are common among combatants, witnesses to violence and civilians in and from conflict zones.
Case studies are presented in the report. One woman in Lebanon, for example, has years of accumulated trauma and tragedy, especially during the infamous battle for Aleppo in 2015. Among the tragedies experienced were her loss of a new-born child to illness and an attempted rape by a man pretending to be offering her some work. Despite prescribed medication, she reported that recently it has been difficult to find a regular supply due to the shortage of medicinces in Lebanon.
She is now struggling to recover, but spoke on condition of anonymity. "I don't leave home at all, I just stay in the tent. Sometimes, I have episodes of stress where I feel like breaking everything and hit my husband."
Another refugee, 24-year-old Ahmad Al-Mousa, reported that loud noise such as low-flying aircraft trigger panic after he was seriously injured by a barrel bomb that hit his home in the town of Tel Al-Karameh in 2014. "I can't describe how I would feel if I could get rid of this issue, if I could recover fully, if I could feel equal to other people," he explained. He added that he has not yet found any help for his condition.
Syria Relief called for more investment in mental health services for refugees in several countries. It pointed out that while there are supplies of food, clothing, shelter and other aid coming in, there is hardly any focus on the mental health of those coming from conflict zones.
According to a member of the local council in Tel Al-Karameh, there are many people who need such support. "I can't even count them," said Ibrahim Hanno. "There are people who are really unable to recover, they have severe psychological and physical injuries. The only thing we can do is to try to document their situation so that if the local NGOs come to the area we will tell them."