LONDON: More than three-quarters of Syrian refugees may be suffering from serious mental health problems caused by their country’s 10-year conflict, according to a new report.
UK charity Syria Relief surveyed hundreds of refugees living in Lebanon, Turkey and Syria’s Idlib province, and found that 84 percent of people had at least seven out of 15 key symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
People suffering from PTSD, which is usually caused by witnessing or experiencing traumatic events, experience a range of symptoms including panic attacks and anxiety, and it often comes hand in hand with other mental health problems such as depression.
Despite the sky-high rates of PTSD, Syria Relief said accessing professional medical help is difficult, if not impossible, for many refugees.
Only 15 percent of refugees in Lebanon believe there is some mental health support available, and for internally displaced Syrians in Idlib that figure drops to just 1 percent.
One respondent to the survey, Ahmed, was hit by a government airstrike and trapped inside a destroyed building for 12 hours before being rescued.
“We could only see dust and darkness. We remained trapped under the rubble, in the cold for 12 hours until the Syrian Civil Defence (the White Helmets) freed us,” he said.
“What we saw, it cannot be described. The sound of aircrafts was so terrifying. I am, and I always will be, so scared of that sound, even after a hundred years. My fear has become my obsession,” he added.
“Whilst I received medical help, psychologically no one has taken care of me. I don’t even know if there is any mental health support for people like me, or even for people in a worse mental health condition than me.”
Charles Lawley, the report’s author and head of communications at Syria Relief, told Arab News: “There needs to be a change of attitudes toward mental health. It’s very easy to see the need to fix the tangible damage — broken buildings and bodies — but we also need to fix the damage we can’t see.”
He and the team at Syria Relief have urged the international community to “ensure there is funding to meet the psychosocial needs that are bound to result from people becoming victims of conflict and disaster.”
There is a danger that the mental health effects of the conflict on the millions of Syrian refugees could outlast the war itself, Lawley said.
“One woman I spoke to witnessed her husband being killed in an airstrike on their home, and four months later lost two of her three children in another airstrike. This was six years ago. How is anyone ever going to come to terms with that without the help of a mental health professional?” he added.
“Some of the people I speak to haven’t been inside Syria or an active conflict zone for five, seven, even 10 years, but the symptoms of the trauma from their experiences aren’t healing.”
Nearly 12 million Syrians are either refugees or internally displaced — more than half of the pre-war population.
The conflict began in 2011 when a pro-democracy protest movement was met with brutal force by the Assad regime.