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The Syrian Mental Health Crisis Nobody Talks About

War has compromised the mental health of millions of Syrians. The problem is also transcending borders, following people as they seek safety abroad.

Syrian soldier in the outskirts of Damascus
Syrian soldier in the outskirts of Damascus
Katarina Montgomery

The war raging in Syria has created a severe mental health crisis that could have consequences for decades to come, and yet it is largely going unreported.

It is also the most underappreciated consequence of the war, according to Dr. Jalal Nofal, a leading mental health professional. “Mental health disorders related to trauma and stress are now widespread and psychotic disorders are on the rise as a result of the destruction of all sources of well-being in the country,” he told Syria Deeply.

Right from the early days of the conflict, in 2011, medical professionals warned that mass displacement, the trauma of daily exposure to violence and the deaths of loved ones were leading to a mental health epidemic among Syrians.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 350,000 Syrians are currently suffering from severe mental disorders while another 2 million or more are suffering from mild to moderate mental problems such as anxiety and depression disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD can be caused by experiencing an extreme shock or living through a difficult or painful experience. Symptoms, which can include angry outbursts, depression, nightmares and becoming withdrawn and aggressive, often start to manifest themselves a few months after the incident.

Dr. Nofal, who specializes in the treatment of traumatized children and was detained by the Assad government four times before fleeing to Turkey, said ensuring access to health care is nearly impossible with Syria's medical infrastructure on the “brink of collapse” and more than half of its hospitals destroyed or damaged.

“Syria doesn’t have resources in place for therapy because we don’t have a real psychosocial support system. Hospitals inside Syria are under the authority of the Syrian regime, so patients don’t speak about their symptoms out of fear of retaliation,” Dr. Nofal said.

He added that Syria’s mental health epidemic transcended its borders. The more than 3 million Syrians who have sought refuge in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq who are struggling simply to survive lack the resources or means to seek help for their mental health issues.

“The inability to work in host countries, with refugees surviving on aid distribution, leads to alienation, despair, anxiety and depression," he said. "As a result, we are seeing a surge in domestic violence among Syrians, between wives and husbands, parents against children, and amongst children themselves.”

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Geopolitics

Minerals And Violence: A Papal Condemnation Of African Exploitation, Circa 2023

Before heading to South Sudan to continue his highly anticipated trip to Africa, the pontiff was in the Democratic Republic of Congo where he delivered a powerful speech, in a country where 40 million Catholics live.

Minerals And Violence: A Papal Condemnation Of African Exploitation, Circa 2023
Pierre Haski

-Analysis-

PARIS — You may know the famous Joseph Stalin quote: “The Pope? How many divisions has he got?” Pope Francis still has no military divisions to his name, but he uses his voice, and he does so wisely — sometimes speaking up when no one else would dare.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (the former Belgian Congo, a region plundered and martyred, before and after its independence in 1960), Francis has chosen to speak loudly. Congo is a country with 110 million inhabitants, immensely rich in minerals, but populated by poor people and victims of brutal wars.

That land is essential to the planetary ecosystem, and yet for too long, the world has not seen it for its true value.

The words of this 86-year-old pope, who now moves around in a wheelchair, deserve our attention. He undoubtedly said what a billion Africans are thinking: "Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands off Africa! Stop choking Africa: It is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered!"

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