The Unknown War in Syria: Mental Illness

The ongoing civil war in Syria has taken its toll after 4 years of conflict that began in 2011. We have seen the horrific image of Aylan Kurdi, a two-year-old a refugee Syrian boy who drowned while fleeing with his family from Kobani, his hometown. What began as an attempt to flee violence and search for a new home sadly ended as a tragedy beyond explanation. Europe has experienced the highest influx of refugees since World War II. Syria has become the top source of refugees in the Middle East. The refusal of Syrian President, Bashar Assad, to abdicate and help foster a peaceful political transition has fueled the ongoing civil conflict. The Islamic State of Iraq & Syria (known as ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State) and rival extremist groups have transformed what began as a largely peaceful protest movement in 2011 into the most catastrophic humanitarian crisis in recent memory.


The number of Syrians living with mental health disorders has increased since 2001, based on a report from the Health Ministry, noting that 40% of Syrians are in need of psychological support. Cases of children suffering from PTSD, Anxiety Disorders, suicide attempts, and Depression are on the rise. Since the rise of ISIS (who is using Aylan’s picture to inflict their propaganda), the prospect of a peaceful resolution of the conflict has become increasingly remote. Despite an on-going air campaign by a US-led coalition, Islamic State’s brutality, which has intensified with its recently reported use of chemical weapons, shows no sign of easing.

Most refugees do not have the medical treatment they need to treat their mental health ailments. Jennifer Yang, a global health reporter, described a woman who was carrying 11 babies, suffering from Schizophrenia without proper treatment. After a period of time, she was able to receive a medical health evaluation; she is now on anti-psychotic drugs and her children are now attending school and show signs of improvement. This singular case, however, is not representative of the efforts to combat the emotional traumas suffered by the millions of Syrians who have been displaced by the civil war.

The brutality of war has also affected parents, powerless due to the lack of money and reassurance, a growing number of children being brutally abused shows alarming numbers. Many of these kids suffer from nightmares, wetting their beds, ashamed for this behavior living under a shadow of a true stigma written on their faces wondering if Allah has forgotten their prayers.

Syria’s exodus has compelled President Obama to accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees. As of now, no less than 1,600 Syrian refugees have arrived in the United States. But this isn’t only a conflict in the USA or Europe alone. It’s a world crisis to reflect upon. The deteriorating living conditions of the 1.6 millions of refugees is extremely worrying. 10% of its population suffer from Schizophrenia without proper therapy and medication. This is such a complex subject that it’s rarely printed in the newspapers. We witness the violence, the lack of resources, how the world has turned its back on the Syrian nation.

These are people who have scars on their bodies as well in their minds. Thousands of mentally ill are losing the battle in silence, bowing their heads recognizing there is no other place to go; tripping on their feet trying to escape the misery of what Syria & Iraq have become. Do we need more horrific images showing the aftermath of chlorine gas attacks by Syrian government forces? The medical evaluation many refugees receive do not reflect their daily mental struggles, especially when individuals have preexisting psychiatric disorders.

A sustainable parallel between human rights and political justice must not be taken lightly. The focus should not only be shifted to basic rights; but also to focus on individual approaches from the mental health community. Back in 1998, I volunteered to help the victims of Hurricane Mitch in Honduras. There are no words to describe the aftermath of this natural disaster, and the repercussions that hit those who live in extremely poor conditions. I’d visit a small group who lives by the river, they’d build their “houses” with whatever material they found available. These people had nothing to live for, they were poor and sick, and yet, they were the most humble and generous people I’ve ever met in my life. The children were so open to be loved and to regain a sense of stability in their hearts. Their faces still haunt me, just like those children in Syria. I knew they needed more than food and clean water to drink; they needed someone or anything to restore their faith of living like a human. We need the community to teach something about human rights. This is not about charities, is about justice and equality. The threat of ISIS is among us every single day. How can we stop what it seems impossible to prevent? I do not know how to defeat ISIS but let us not sleep in the comfort of our freedom, we are the generation that could end human rights injustice.


  • More than 381,000 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe since the start of 2015
  • 12.2 million people are in need of humanitarian aid in Syria
  • 7.6 million people are internally displaced in Syria
  • Over 4 million refugees have fled to neighboring countries
  • 5.5 million children are affected by the crisis

Source: International Medical Corps

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