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.


East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2
Updated 53 min 15 sec ago

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2
  • The self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces said the helicopters collided in the air over the village of Msus
  • The crash came as they have been battling Chadian fighters in Libya’s southern areas on the border with Chad

CAIRO: Forces loyal to a powerful Libyan commander said two military planes crashed on Sunday over a village in eastern Libya, killing at least two officers.
The self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces, led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, said the helicopters collided in the air over the village of Msus, 130 kilometers (81 miles) southeast of the city of Benghazi.
A two-officer crew, including Brig. Gen. Bouzied Al-Barrasi, was killed in the crash, while the second helicopter crew survived, the forces said in a brief statement. It did not give the cause of the crash and said the helicopters were on a military mission.
Mohammad Younes Menfi, head of Libya’s Presidential Council, mourned the two officers.
Haftar’s forces control eastern and most of southern Libya. The crash came as they have been battling Chadian fighters in Libya’s southern areas on the border with Chad.
The clashes erupted last week and could further destabilize the wider Sahel region, after Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno was killed in April in battels between his government and Chadian rebels.


Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week

Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week
Updated 20 September 2021

Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week

Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week
  • Regional rivals have been at odds over a host of maritime issues in the Mediterranean and migration

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that he would meet Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly next week in New York.

The NATO members and regional rivals have been at odds over a host of maritime issues in the Mediterranean and migration.
Mitsotakis said on Friday that Turkey was an important partner in tackling any new migration challenge to Europe and needed support.
Speaking at a news conference before departing for New York, Erdogan said Turkey, which hosts some 4 million refugees — most of whom are Syrians — was “suffering the biggest burden and the heaviest downsides” of migration, adding that Turkey would take the necessary steps if its counterparts did not.
The Turkey’s president also said his country was ready for talks with Armenia but added Yerevan needed to take steps toward opening a controversial transport link through its territory.
Armenia and Turkey never established diplomatic relations and their shared border has been closed since the 1990s.
The ties have deteriorated due to Turkey’s support for its regional ally Azerbaijan, which fought with Armenia last year for control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
But earlier this month, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Yerevan was prepared to hold discussions on repairing relations with Ankara.
“If he (Pashinyan) would like to meet with Tayyip Erdogan, then certain steps should be taken,” Erdogan said.
He was referring to the creation of a transit corridor that would have to go through Armenia to connect Azerbaijan to its Nakchivan enclave that borders Turkey and Iran.
“We are not closed to talks (with Armenia), we will hold the talks,” Erdogan said.
“I hope that not a negative but a positive approach will prevail there,” he said. “God willing, the problem between Azerbaijan and Armenia will be overcome with the opening of the corridors.”


Morocco’s Justice and Development Party decries ‘violations’ at polls

Abdellatif Ouahbi, president of Morocco's Authenticity and Modernity party (C), gives a speech after his party came in second in parliamentary and local elections, in Rabat on September 9, 2021. (AFP)
Abdellatif Ouahbi, president of Morocco's Authenticity and Modernity party (C), gives a speech after his party came in second in parliamentary and local elections, in Rabat on September 9, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 20 September 2021

Morocco’s Justice and Development Party decries ‘violations’ at polls

Abdellatif Ouahbi, president of Morocco's Authenticity and Modernity party (C), gives a speech after his party came in second in parliamentary and local elections, in Rabat on September 9, 2021. (AFP)
  • Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has named businessman Aziz Akhannouch to lead a new government after his National Rally of Independents, considered close to the palace, thrashed the Justice and Development Party, winning 102 seats

RABAT: Morocco’s moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party, which was thrashed at last week’s elections, on Sunday denounced “violations and irregularities” at the polls.
The party had headed Morocco’s governing coalition for a decade but saw its support collapse at the Sept. 8 vote, dropping from 125 of parliament’s 395 seats to just 13.
Local elections held the same day confirmed the party’s crushing defeat.
The party “denounces the violations and irregularities” at the polls, including “massive use of money,” “manipulation of reports” and “names crossed off the electoral lists or appearing twice,” it said in a statement following Saturday’s extraordinary session of the party’s national council.
These “forms of electoral corruption ... led to the announcement of results that do not reflect the substance of the political map and the free will of the voters,” the statement added.
Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit has said the voting process took “under normal circumstances” apart from isolated incidents.

SPEEDREAD

• Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit says the voting process took ‘under normal circumstances’ apart from isolated incidents.

• On voting day, the Islamists had alleged ‘serious irregularities,’ including ‘obscene cash handouts’ near polling stations and ‘confusion’ on some electoral rolls, with some voters finding they were not listed.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has named businessman Aziz Akhannouch to lead a new government after his National Rally of Independents, considered close to the palace, thrashed the Justice and Development Party, winning 102 seats.
On voting day, the Islamists had alleged “serious irregularities,” including “obscene cash handouts” near polling stations and “confusion” on some electoral rolls, with some voters finding they were not listed.
The National Rally of Independents has started coalition talks, but the Justice and Development Party has announced that it would switch to its “natural” position as the opposition.
The party “is at an important turning point,” outgoing secretary-general Saad-Eddine El-Othmani said Saturday at the party’s closed-door meeting.

 


Iranian oil fails to end Lebanon’s fuel wars

Lebanese police stand guard in front of the central bank building, where anti-government demonstrators protest against the deepening financial crisis, in Beirut. (AP/File)
Lebanese police stand guard in front of the central bank building, where anti-government demonstrators protest against the deepening financial crisis, in Beirut. (AP/File)
Updated 20 September 2021

Iranian oil fails to end Lebanon’s fuel wars

Lebanese police stand guard in front of the central bank building, where anti-government demonstrators protest against the deepening financial crisis, in Beirut. (AP/File)
  • Lebanon has not asked for fuel from Iran, says PM Mikati
  • Maronite patriarch calls on government to end the smuggling of Iranian fuel from Syria

BEIRUT: Armed men opened fire at a gas station in the Bekaa valley on Sunday and threatened to kill the owner as Lebanon’s fuel wars continued to spiral out of control.

The incident in the town of Beit Chama came amid long queues at gas stations, frequent power cuts and a 20-liter canister of gasoline selling on the black market for 500,000 pounds ($327) when the official price is 180,000 pounds.

The fuel shortage has not been eased by the arrival last week of tanker trucks of diesel from Iran, smuggled across the border from Syria in a deal brokered by Hezbollah in breach of US sanctions. A third tanker is at sea on its way from Iran to the Syrian port of Baniyas.

Neither the arrival of Iraqi fuel to Electricité du Liban nor that of Iranian diesel has yielded positive results yet.

In his Sunday sermon, Maronite patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi denounced the smuggling of Iranian fuel from Syria. “The state cannot be built on practices or positions that contradict its entity and institutions,” he said.

Al-Rahi said the new government under Prime Minister Najib Mikati should “work as a united national team to stop the collapse and confront the continuous attack attempts against the state and its democratic system.”

“The state cannot be built on practices or positions that contradict its entity and institutions,” he said, adding that the recent entry of fuel tankers and the obstruction of the investigation into the Beirut Port explosion were “among such practices.”

Al-Rahi expressed the hope that the new government would “work as a united national team to stop the collapse and confront the continuous attack attempts against the state and its democratic system.”

He urged the government to “carry out reforms, mobilize the financial and economic cycle, solve the fuel and electricity crises, and close the smuggling crossings on the border.”
The state cannot be built on practices or
positions that contradict its entity and institutions.
Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi
Lebanese Maronite Patriarch

Meanwhile, Mikati dismissed fears that Lebanon faced US penalties for breaching US sanctions by importing Iranian oil.

“The Lebanese government didn’t approve this … so I don’t believe it would be subject to sanctions,” Mikati told CNN on Saturday in response to a question about Hezbollah bringing Iranian fuel into Lebanon

“I am saddened by the lack of Lebanese sovereignty," he said.

A source close to Mikati told Arab News on Sunday: “The state of Lebanon has not asked Iran for fuel. This position had been officially expressed and has not changed.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh commented on Mikati’s statements to CNN, saying on Sunday that sending Iranian fuel to Lebanon “happened according to a standard purchase process by Lebanese merchants. If the Lebanese government also wants to buy fuel from Iran, we would be happy to oblige.”

HIGHLIGHTS

 

• On Monday, PM Mikati’s government is expected to receive parliament’s vote of confidence with approximately 100 votes out of 128. It is expected that a vote of no confidence will be limited to the MPs of the Lebanese Forces bloc and several independent MPs.

• The Lebanese are still floundering with a series of never-ending crises, the foremost of which is the fuel crisis. Long queues at gas stations have remained the same, and the power rationing hours have not improved either.

On Monday, Mikati’s government is expected to receive parliament’s vote of confidence with approximately 100 votes out of 128. It is expected that a vote of no confidence will be limited to the MPs of the Lebanese Forces bloc and several independent MPs.

Politicians, meanwhile, were preoccupied with the repercussions of Halliburton winning a contract to explore oil and gas in the disputed maritime border area between Lebanon and Israel.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to “take urgent and immediate action before the Security Council and the international community to verify the possibility of a new Israeli attack on Lebanese sovereignty and rights because any exploration contract with Halliburton or other companies in the disputed area undermines the framework agreement sponsored by the US and the UN.”

Lebanese-Israeli negotiations over the disputed area were held under US auspices and stopped in April after the Lebanese delegation insisted that negotiations start from Line 29 of the border, which enlarges the size of the disputed area to 2,290 km instead of 860 km.

This area was based on a map sent in 2011 to the UN, but Lebanon later considered this map to be based on wrong estimates, so it demanded an additional area of 1,430 square km, including parts of the Karish gas field, in which a Greek company works for Israel.

The current Lebanese proposal is known as Line 29, and Israel has accused Lebanon of obstructing negotiations by expanding the disputed area.


Syria’s defense chief meets Jordan’s army commander in Amman

Syria’s defense chief meets Jordan’s army commander in Amman
Updated 19 September 2021

Syria’s defense chief meets Jordan’s army commander in Amman

Syria’s defense chief meets Jordan’s army commander in Amman
  • Meeting was “to increase coordination in the field of border security”: Hala Akhbar news site
  • Petra said Huneiti and Ayoub discussed border situation in southern Syria and fighting terrorism

AMMAN: Syria’s defense minister met Sunday with Jordan’s army chief in Amman after after Syrian troops captured several rebel-held areas near Jordan’s border, state media reported.
The Hala Akhbar news site, which is linked to Jordan’s military, reported that the meeting between Jordanian Gen. Yousef Huneiti and Syrian Gen. Ali Ayoub was “to increase coordination in the field of border security to serve the interests of the two brotherly countries.”
The recent push by Syrian troops in the country’s south is the biggest since government forces captured wide areas along the border in 2018, including the Nassib border crossing.
The crossing with Jordan was reopened in 2018, months after it fell under Syrian government control. Syrian rebels had seized the site in 2015, severing a lifeline for the government in Damascus and disrupting a major trade route linking Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the oil-rich Gulf countries.
Ayoub’s visit came nearly two weeks after Syrian forces entered the rebel-held district of the volatile southern city of Daraa as part of a truce negotiated by Russia to end weeks of fighting. In the days that followed, Syrian troops captured rebel-held parts of several villages near Daraa.
The latest push by Syrian troops brings all parts of southern Syria under full government control.
Petra, Jordan’s state news agency, said Huneiti and Ayoub discussed border security, the situation in southern Syria, fighting terrorism and confronting narcotics smuggling.
Syrian state TV said the visit came at the invitation of Jordan’s army commander, adding that Ayoub was accompanied by top army officers. It said the talks focused on “fighting terrorism and border control.”
Jordan is a close Western ally and has long been seen as an island of stability in the turbulent Mideast. The kingdom hosts more than 650,000 Syrian refugees.
Earlier this month, ministers from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt said after meeting in Amman that Egyptian natural gas should reach Lebanon through Jordan and Syria as soon as next month, after maintenance of pipelines and the review of a deal interrupted 10 years ago.