Despite depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the most common problem among refugees. However, only 5% of them have received psychological therapy in hosting countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

The Syrian Civil War has caused 500,000 deaths in five years, 4 million refugees and 12 million displaced people as well as the war’s physical and psychological consequences.

According to UNHCR, the most common health problems among Syrian displaced people are: depression, prolonged grief disorder, PTSD and anxiety. Many of them, and many children, must live in a refugee camp for at least one year before being resettled. The lack of adequate treatment and high levels of stress have worsened the well-being of thousands of refugees. Moreover, most refugees find barriers in accessing healthcare.

Although there is no data to quantify how many Syrian refugees living in Europe suffer from a mental disease, a study published in 2015 by the German Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists estimated that half of the refugees living in Germany – the final destination for many of those arriving on Lesbos, Greece – have mental health issues. Furthermore, 70% of refugees have experienced violent situations and 50% have been victims of them. According to Turkish authorities, more than half of Syrian refugees in Turkey are in need of psychological support.

Regarding refugee children, the NGO International Medical Corps (IMC) has highlighted in a recent study that epilepsy, intellectual disabilities and development disorders, as well as emotional disorders are the most common problems.

These mental health problems have severe long-term implications since children need more resources at school and during the transition to work life. In terms of education, the United Nations estimated that in 2015 half of Syrian children were not registered in schools of hosting countries. Also, women and girls are often at risk of suffering gender violence, forced marriages and sexual exploitation. In 2014, among Syrian girls aged between 15 and 18 years living in a refugee camp, 91% did not go to school because of being forced to work for survival.

refugees' mental health

Recommendations for improving refugees’ health

The NGO International Medical Corps has identified different challenges and recommendations that should be addressed to improve positively the situation and well-being of refugees. Firstly, including mental health care as a part of the general health system will foster a reduction in the stigma faced by those looking for mental healthcare. Secondly, upgrading mental health training for general practitioners is essential as well as including Syrian physicians in Turkish health centres to facilitate the access to health of Syrian refugees. In addition, the international community must provide more resources to host countries and prioritise healthcare for children with developmental disorders.

Aiming to coordinate the services offered by different agencies, the Lebanese health ministry established in 2014 a programme to provide support on mental health partnering with UNICEF and WHO. A report of the Migration Policy Institute recommends implementing a similar programme in all countries hosting refugees, especially to address children’s vulnerabilities. If these needs are not covered, the development of mental problems during adolescence may become uneven and end up in a lost generation.

 


Sources:

Weissbecker I. and Leichner A. Addressing Mental Health Needs among Syrian Refugees. Middle East Institute, September 2015. Available at: http://www.mei.edu/content/article/addressing-mental-health-needs-among-syrian-refugees

Sirin S and Rogers-Sirin L. The Educational and Mental Health Needs of Syrian Refugee Children. Migration Policy Institute, October 2015. Available at: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/educational-and-mental-health-needs-syrian-refugee-children

Rubin S. Brain drain: the neglected mental health of refugees in Europe. Irinnews, March 2016. Available at: https://www.irinnews.org/feature/2016/03/09/brain-drain-neglected-mental-health-refugees-europe

Karasapan O. Syria’s mental health crisis. Brookings Institution, April 2016. Available at: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/future-development/2016/04/25/syrias-mental-health-crisis/

Photo: ACNUR and Bjørn Heidenstrøm