Mental health in Middle East conflict zones: How are people dealing with psychological fallout?

Mental health in Middle East conflict zones: How are people dealing with psychological fallout?
Zedan, a patient suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is in medical consultation at the mental health centre of the Bajet Kandala camp for displaced Yazidis near Dohuk, northwest of the Iraqi capital. (File/AFP)
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Updated 15 July 2021

Mental health in Middle East conflict zones: How are people dealing with psychological fallout?

Mental health in Middle East conflict zones: How are people dealing with psychological fallout?
  • Studies show high incidences of depression in Tunisia, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq
  • Almost 1 billion people worldwide live with a mental illness

ABU DHABI: Almost all 10 to 19-year-olds in the Gaza Strip are exhibiting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to their exposure to security threats and violence, according to clinical psychologist Dr. Thoraiya Kanafani.

And a 2020 Arab youth survey found that nearly a third of all young people living in 15 countries in the region know at least one person suffering some form of mental illness.




Palestinian children carry household items they recovered from the rubble of a building, destroyed by Israeli strikes, in Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip on May 21, 2021. (File/AFP)

Kanafani told Arab News that studies show high incidences of depression in Tunisia, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

In the Gaza Strip, 97.5 percent of 10 to 19-year-olds have PTSD, a mental health condition that results from experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event.

The Palestinian crisis and other major events in the Middle East have caused an increase in mental illness.

Almost 1 billion people worldwide live with a mental illness, but more than 75 percent of those with psychological disorders fail to receive treatment, according to a 2021 World Bank report.




A Syrian man suffering from mental issues looks outside a window at al-Waalan special needs centre in northern town of Aldana near Syria's second largest city of Aleppo on February 14, 2019. (File/AFP)

“Every year, close to 3 million people die due to substance abuse. Every 40 seconds, a person dies by suicide. About 50 percent of mental health disorders start by the age of 14,” the organization said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said in a 2019 report that one person in five (20 percent) living in a conflict zone is estimated to have depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

“Among people who have experienced war or other conflicts in the previous 10 years, one in 11 (9 percent) will have a moderate or severe mental disorder,” the WHO added.

In May, 11 Palestinian children, who were receiving trauma therapy, were killed in their homes by Israeli airstrikes.

Asked if seeking treatment while experiencing continued attacks in a conflict zone is still effective, Kanafani said: “Studies suggest that some type of intervention and treatment for children in war is effective to an extent, especially those that help children build coping skills.”




Palestinian children take part in a four-week summer activities programme organised by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) which include sports, games, music and crafts, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 08, 2021. (File/AFP)

She added that children living under continued attacks develop a constant fear of violence and suffer from long-lasting anxieties as well as physiological responses to stress. It is beneficial to support their existing coping strategies and educate them on other tools that may help, she said.

In Yemen, about one in five people suffers from mental illness due to the long-running conflict in the country, according to a 2017 study by the Family Counselling and Development Foundation.

“Mental health care remains scarce in Yemen. Mental illness is stigmatized, and the proportion of psychiatrists per population is insufficient. Some of the few existing mental health services have even closed as a result of the pandemic,” ReliefWeb, a humanitarian information service provided by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said in a statement.




People displaced by conflict receive food aid in the Khokha district of Yemen's war-ravaged western province of Hodeida, on April 20, 2021. (File/AFP)

Yemen has the added difficulties of damaged infrastructure as a result of the civil war, Dr. Kirin Hilliar, assistant professor of psychology at Heriot-Watt University Dubai, told Arab News.

“Reports suggest that only 51 percent of all healthcare facilities in the country are fully functional,” she added. Hilliar further said there are limited mental health services — a stigma that is also evident in many countries in the region. 

The Syrian crisis has led to about 207,000 civilian casualties since the beginning of the conflict in 2011. About 25,000 of these were children, according to a 2021 report by Statista.




Syrian patients sit in a yard at a mental health clinic -- the sole such facility in the rebel-held north of Syria -- in the town of Azaz, near the border with Turkey, on July 6, 2017. (File/AFP)

Another 2017 report by the International Review of the Red Cross said over 2.4 million homes have been damaged, 67 percent of the industrial capacity has been destroyed, 45 percent of health centers are no longer functioning, and 30 percent of educational institutions have been demolished.

This has plunged 89 percent of Syrians into extreme poverty. This critical situation in the country has left those living through the crisis at high risk of psychological damage.

“In 2018, it was reported that only 80 psychiatrists were working in Syrian territories, and psychologists were not trained or licensed in the country. However, the WHO and other NGOs have helped in providing training to health professionals, so they feel more capable to provide psychiatric and psychological services to those in their communities,” Hilliar said.

Wars and extremist attacks in the region have affected not only those witnessing them, but also social media users who are being exposed to negative news every day.




 In this file illustration photo taken on April 7, 2021, a smart phone screen displays the logo of Facebook on a Facebook website background, in Arlington, Virginia. (File/AFP)

Reports of killings, torture and bombings are taking over social media. Users might not even notice how much negative information they consume daily and the effects of that on their mental health.

Referring to Palestine, Kanafani said social media has been an important tool for spreading awareness about the truth of what is happening there.

“The negative consequence for many individuals who are viewing all the content is survivor’s guilt as well as emotional fatigue. Viewers who do not live in Palestine are experiencing strong feelings of helplessness, injustice and frustration. The consistent nature of these feelings may lead to emotional burnout,” she added.

Hilliar said that it can be hard for many people to read and watch details of negative events happening around the world. This type of content can make people feel helpless after witnessing the suffering of others, she added.




A woman uses her mobile phone to check Facebook and other mobile apps in Yangon on February 4,2021. (File/AFP)

A 2020 report by Cleveland Clinic, a US academic medical center, said that social media “doom scrolling” can cause negative thoughts and mindset which can affect a person’s mental health.

“Consuming negative news has been linked in research with greater fear, stress, anxiety and sadness,” the report said.

Kanafani said that the Middle East lacks mental health funding, resources and workforce, while stigmatization and lack of proper awareness also leaves people reluctant to seek treatment.

The highest number of psychiatrists in the region, according to Kanafani, are found in Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Lebanon, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE following with less than five psychiatrists per 100,000 population.

“Positively, we are certainly seeing an increase in the provision of mental health facilities in the Middle East, though the rate of growth varies widely across different countries,” Hilliard said.

She added that the UAE, for example, is seeing an increase in mental health services.


Jordanian passenger jet forced into emergency landing

Jordanian passenger jet forced into emergency landing
Updated 6 min 4 sec ago

Jordanian passenger jet forced into emergency landing

Jordanian passenger jet forced into emergency landing
  • The airline is currently working with the concerned authorities to determine the reason behind the error, local media said

DUBAI: Royal Jordanian Airlines announced that its flight RJ 508 from Cairo to Amman was forced Monday into an emergency landing at Amman's Queen Alia International Airport 10 minutes before the scheduled landing time.

The airline said in a statement that it successfully completed the landing of the jet on the main runway, and all 133 passengers and six crew members of the flight were evacuated and transferred to the airport.

The airline is currently working with the concerned authorities to determine the reason behind the error, local media said. 

 


UAE rolls out Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine to children aged 3-17

UAE rolls out Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine to children aged 3-17
Updated 35 min 28 sec ago

UAE rolls out Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine to children aged 3-17

UAE rolls out Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine to children aged 3-17
  • The Gulf state, which has among the world’s highest immunization rates, was already providing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged 12-15

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates will start providing China’s Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine to children aged 3-17, the UAE government said on Twitter on Monday.
It cited the health ministry as saying the decision comes after clinical trials and extensive evaluations, without providing any details. Authorities said in June the trial would monitor the immune response of 900 children.
The Gulf state, which has among the world’s highest immunization rates, was already providing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged 12-15.
The health ministry said on Sunday that 78.95 percent of the UAE population of roughly 9 million had received one vaccine dose while 70.57 percent had been fully vaccinated.
The UAE, the region’s tourism and trade hub, registered 1,519 new coronavirus infections on Sunday to take its total to 682,377 cases and 1,951 deaths. It does not provide a breakdown for each of its seven emirates.
It led Phase III clinical trials of the vaccine produced by China’s state-owned drugmaker Sinopharm and has started manufacturing it under a joint venture between Sinopharm and Abu Dhabi-based technology company Group 42.


Lebanon implements COVID-19 health pass

Lebanon implements COVID-19 health pass
Updated 02 August 2021

Lebanon implements COVID-19 health pass

Lebanon implements COVID-19 health pass
  • The new rules go into effect Monday, at the peak of Lebanon’s summer tourist season while daily infections hover near the 1,000 mark

DUBAI: Lebanon will implement entry restrictions starting this week to tourist establishments such as beaches, bars and restaurants in a bid to curb a spike in COVID-19 infections. 

Anyone aged 16 and older must show a COVID-19 vaccination certificate, a recent negative coronavirus test or a document proving a previous infection to gain entry, the health ministry said last week. 

The ministry added that workers at those sites who have not received the vaccine will have to perform a PCR test every 72 hours.

The new rules go into effect Monday, at the peak of Lebanon’s summer tourist season while daily infections hover near the 1,000 mark.


Fire crews battle Turkish wildfires at holiday destinations

While authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as ‘sabotage’ by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis. (AP)
While authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as ‘sabotage’ by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis. (AP)
Updated 02 August 2021

Fire crews battle Turkish wildfires at holiday destinations

While authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as ‘sabotage’ by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis. (AP)
  • Panic-stricken tourists were evacuated Saturday from some hotels in Bodrum as a fire rolled down the hill toward the seashore

ISTANBUL: Wildfires in the Turkish holiday beach destinations of Antalya and Mugla raged on Sunday as firefighters worked to battle the blazes for a fifth day. As some residents boarded boats to flee the danger, coast guard ships waited in the sea in case a bigger evacuation was needed.
Police water cannons, usually used to control riots, assisted helicopters and fire trucks in a village of Mugla’s popular district of Bodrum to fight fires. Turkish television showed fires had reignited after being extinguished earlier, with blazes and smoke approaching a village.
Civilians were trying to help, hoping to protect homes and olive groves, but some houses were already damaged. Coast guard and private boats were helping some residents evacuate by sea.
Fires in Marmaris, another tourist destination in Mugla, continued Sunday as strong winds made firefighting efforts more difficult. Residents of villages around Marmaris pleaded for more help on social media. Tourists and some residents were boarding boats with their suitcases as others waited anxiously to see if the fire would come down to the shore. Fires were also encroaching on a village near the town of Manavgat, where helicopters were trying to extinguish blazes. The minister of forestry and agriculture, Bekir Pakdemirli, tweeted that 107 wildfires were “under control” across Turkey. His list showed that, since Wednesday, wildfires had ignited in 32 provinces. The wildfire death toll rose to eight on Sunday.
Panic-stricken tourists were evacuated Saturday from some hotels in Bodrum as a fire rolled down the hill toward the seashore. Russian media reported that 100 Russian tourists were among those evacuated. While Turkish authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as “sabotage” by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis, as seen by the drastic increases in temperatures along with accidents caused by people.
Turkey’s president said Saturday that one of the fires was started by children. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan toured some of the affected areas on Saturday and promised to help residents rebuild their homes. But social media users criticized him for arriving in Marmaris in a massive convoy that affected traffic and throwing bags of tea from the top of his bus to people gathered to hear him speak.
A heatwave across southern Europe, fed by hot air from North Africa, has led to wildfires across the Mediterranean, including on the Italian island of Sicily and in western Greece, where some residents had to be evacuated by boat to escape the flames.
Temperatures in Turkey and nearby countries in southeast Europe are expected to climb to 42 degrees Celsius on Monday in many cities and towns. Antalya was already registering 41 degrees Celsius on Sunday.
Meanwhile, in Turkey’s eastern Van province, floods destroyed at least six houses after a small river overflowed amid heavy rains. Floods in northern Turkey last month killed at least six people.


Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city

Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city
Updated 02 August 2021

Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city

Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city
  • The rebels disrupted traffic along the Damascus-Daraa highway leading to the border with Jordan

AMMAN: Syrian regime troops stepped up shelling of an opposition enclave in the southern city of Daraa in a bid to assert control over an area that has defied state authority since it was retaken three years ago, witnesses, the army and residents said.

An army assault on the old quarter of Daraa suffered a blow on Thursday when rebels mounted a counteroffensive across the province, capturing dozens of troops.

The army has since sent hundreds of elite troops, dozens of tanks and armored vehicles to storm the enclave where peaceful protests against Assad family rule began in 2011 and were met by deadly force before spreading across the country.

The rebels disrupted traffic along the Damascus-Daraa highway leading to the border with Jordan, which closed the crossing point on Sunday.

The Syrian regime troops, aided by Russian air power and Iranian militias, retook control of the province that borders Jordan and Israel’s Golan Heights in 2018.

Russian-brokered deals at the time forced rebels to hand over heavy weapons but kept the army from entering many towns including the old quarter of the provincial capital known as Daraa Al-Balaad.

The Syrian regime troops on Sunday blamed what they called terrorists for foiling several rounds of negotiations with opposition figures since last week to allow the army to set up checkpoints in the enclave.

The opposition insists the agreement allowed only civilian control, local officials say.

“The regime wants to end what they see as a living symbol of the revolt against it. If they silence it by returning the army they will subjugate the whole Hauran region,” Abu Jehad al Horani, an opposition official, said from inside the enclave.

Damascus-based relief bodies said at least 2,000 families fled their homes since the fighting began on Thursday.