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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 Symptoms, which can include angry outbursts, depression, nightmares and becoming withdrawn and aggressive, often start to manifest themselves a few months after the incident.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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A Refuge From China's Rat Race: The Young People Flocking To Buddhist Monasteries

Unemployment, stress in the workplace, economic difficulties: more and more young Chinese graduates are flocking to monasteries to find "another school of life."

Photograph of a girl praying at a temple during Chinese Lunar New Year. She is burning incense.

Feb 20, 2015 - Huaibei, China - Chinese worshippers pray at a temple during the Lunar New Yeat

Frédéric Schaeffer

JIAXING — It's already dawn at Xianghai Temple when Lin, 26, goes to the Hall of 10,000 Buddhas for the 5:30 a.m. prayer.

Still half-asleep, the young woman joins the monks in chanting mantras and reciting sacred texts for an hour. Kneeling, she bows three times to Vairocana, also known as the Great Sun Buddha, who dominates the 42-meter-high hall representing the cosmos.

Before grabbing a vegetarian breakfast in the adjacent refectory, monks and devotees chant around the hall to the sound of drums and gongs.

"I resigned last October from the e-commerce company where I had been working for the past two years in Nanjing, and joined the temple in January, where I am now a volunteer in residence," explains the young woman, soberly dressed in black pants and a cream linen jacket.

Located in the city of Jiaxing, over a hundred kilometers from Shanghai, in eastern China, the Xianghai temple is home to some 20 permanent volunteers.

Unlike Lin, most of them only stay for a couple days or a few weeks. But for Lin, who spends most of her free time studying Buddhist texts in the temple library, the change in her life has been radical. "I used to do the same job every day, sometimes until very late at night, writing all kinds of reports for my boss. I was exhausted physically and mentally. I felt my life had no meaning," she says.

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