Depression, addiction, divorce: The hidden cost of Syria’s war

Almost everyone has suffered in some form as a result of what the UN human rights chief described as ‘the worst man-made disaster since World War II.’ AFP
Updated 16 June 2018

Depression, addiction, divorce: The hidden cost of Syria’s war

  • 60 percent of children surveyed had symptoms of depression, 45 percent showed signs of PTSD and 65 percent had serious “psychosomatic symptoms
  • Since the civil war began in 2011, an estimated 400,000 Syrians have been killed and millions more displaced

DAMASCUS: Rawan, a 22-year-old medical student at Damascus University, confided in her aunt about her depression, but was shocked at the response.

“You should be ashamed of yourself,” the aunt replied. “A true believer never gets depressed. Don’t speak of this to anyone or they will call you crazy and no one will marry you or even trust you as a physician.”
Like many other Syrians, Rawan decided to keep her depression to herself rather than have her “faith judged and be labeled insane.”
Since the civil war began in 2011, an estimated 400,000 Syrians have been killed and millions more displaced, but the toll the conflict has taken on the mental health of people remains largely unquantifiable.
Even in the relatively liberal and cosmopolitan confines of Damascus, conservative attitudes toward post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression hold sway. Few Syrians talk openly about how the bloodshed has affected them psychologically.
This has led to experts both inside and outside Syria warning that the country will face a wide range of social problems — from substance addiction to suicide — for years to come as generations of Syrians struggle to live with the consequences of what they have seen.
Unable to ask her family for help, Rawan’s depression left her convinced that her work as a medical student was pointless.
“Why should I go to college and study hard when I know this war isn’t likely to end soon and there will be no future for me here?” she told Arab News.
Last year, Mazen Hedar, president of the Syrian Association of Psychiatry, told a local newspaper there were only 70 mental health specialists in the country. He claimed 4 percent of the people in Syria suffer from “severe mental illnesses,” while 20-40 percent “suffer from moderate illnesses.”
But with even basic health services left in ruins by the war and fighting still taking place in many areas, the real numbers are impossible to know.
Almost everyone has suffered in some form as a result of what the UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein described as “the worst man-made disaster since World War II” and an “immense tidal wave of bloodshed and atrocity.”
While Damascus has escaped the worst of the violence and much of the city is now relatively safe, people still feel shocked at the way their country has descended into chaos and are anxious about the future.
Layla, a 26-year-old computer engineer based in the city, told Arab News that her family do not trust Syrian health workers.
“Botched surgeries go unpunished and carelessness goes unnoticed — do you think I would trust a psychologist in a culture that still believes he’s a doctor to the crazy and that those with chronic depression, PTSD or schizophrenia belong in a straitjacket? Sorry, no,” she said.
A study of Syrian refugee children in Turkey during late 2012 and early 2013 found that 74 percent “had experienced the death of somebody they cared strongly about.”
The study, conducted by researchers at Bahcesehir University in Turkey, New York University and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, found 60 percent of children surveyed had symptoms of depression, 45 percent showed signs of PTSD and 65 percent had serious “psychosomatic symptoms.”
Dr. Wael Al-Delaimy of the University of California told Arab News that PTSD can lead to social problems including divorce, unemployment and crime.
He said the level of trauma experienced by people in Damascus could not be compared to the suffering of people elsewhere in the country, where “there is bombing, terrorizing and killing of civilians on a daily basis.”
Al-Delaimy called for Syrian health professionals to adopt a different approach to mental illness, “focusing on prevention and early detection.”


Gulf countries announce measures to cut links with Iran as coronavirus cases rise in Middle East

Updated 1 min 58 sec ago

Gulf countries announce measures to cut links with Iran as coronavirus cases rise in Middle East

  • The UAE suspended all passenger and cargo flights to Iran
  • Kuwait has canceled celebrations for national holidays on Tuesday and Wednesday

DUBAI: Gulf countries announced new measures on Tuesday to cut links with Iran to prevent coronavirus spreading after the confirmation of 20 new cases, all of them people returning from the Islamic republic.

The UAE suspended all passenger and cargo flights to Iran after Kuwait and Bahrain announced the additional cases of COVID-19.

Over the past two days, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman have reported 29 cases of the novel coronavirus among people returning from pilgrimages to Iran, which is battling the deadliest outbreak outside China and where the death toll has reached 16.

Bahrain also announced 9 new cases, bringing the total number affected in the kingdom to 17 — including six Saudi women — after they returned from Iran via Dubai and Sharjah in the UAE.

The UAE General Civil Aviation Authority “suspended all passenger flights and cargo to and from Iran starting today and for one week,” a statement carried by the official WAM news agency said, adding that the ban could be extended.

Also on Tuesday, the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed tweeted that the UAE was ready to provide all forms of support to help China combat the spread of the virus.

Shortly after, the Bahraini authorities said citizens were banned from traveling to Iran “until further notice.”

In neighboring Kuwait, three new cases were recorded among Kuwaiti men who had been under quarantine after returning from Iran.

Oman, which on Monday reported its first cases of coronavirus in two Omani women who had returned from Iran, reported an additional two cases.

Muscat was making arrangements to bring back its citizens from the Islamic republic, the foreign ministry said, a day after it suspended all flights to and from Iran.

Oman also announced that it will suspend the import and export of goods from Iran from Wednesday.

The three countries have large Shiite Muslim populations who frequently travel to Iran to visit holy shrines.

The UAE has already announced 13 coronavirus cases, all foreigners, including an Iranian couple who had traveled from Iran.

Kuwait has canceled celebrations for national holidays on Tuesday and Wednesday and also scrapped all sports events to counter the spread of the disease.