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Refugees, Mental Health, and the Syrian Civil War

Refugees, Mental Health, and the Syrian Civil War


Seven years into the Syrian civil war, the exact scale and impact of mental health trauma are not well-known, nor are they prioritized by local or international agencies/governments. Now, research is starting to provide insight into an undiscussed horror of war, experienced by even those who never pick up a weapon.

In the News:

The near-disappearance of Syria from the news does not mean that the war has ended. In just the first few months of 2017, more than 250,000 Syrians registered as refugees, bringing the number of Syrian refugees well over 5 million.

Now, seven years into the brutal Syrian crisis, the exact scale and impact of psychological trauma, mental health challenges and PTSD on both children and adults are not well-known, nor are they prioritized by local and international aid agencies, relief organizations and governments. But we know the psychological toll of the conflict is significant.  The resulting depression, PTSD, suicidal tendencies, severe aggression and other mental illnesses that result from these horrors are invisible wounds that are not being detected early enough, let alone treated efficiently, in Syria and beyond. The longer they go untreated, the more amplified are the impacts.

Support from Peace Science:

  • Exposure to the Syrian war is directly associated with high rates of PTSD, suicide, chronic disease, and poor physical and mental health among Syrian refugees and IDPs.
  • Rates of depression are much higher among Syrian refugees than among IDPs still living in Syria.
  • The percentage of Syrian refugees and IDPs who have either planned or attempted suicide is nearly three times greater than the percentage of those who have in the United States.

This research highlights the long-lasting health effects of war, even in those who never pick up a weapon. As victims of one of the largest humanitarian disasters in decades, Syrian refugees and internally displaced people will pay the high costs of war long after the fighting stops through high rates of physical and emotional trauma perpetrated against themselves, their family members, and the collective Syrian identity. Likewise, the high PTSD rates reported in this study are supported by the research of others who have studied PTSD rates of Syrian refugees in Turkey and Lebanon, further validating the importance of these findings. International organizations such as the UNHCR, ICRC, Mercy Corps, and many others have bolstered mental health services in their humanitarian programming. However, as this research shows, there is still an urgent need to expand these services—as well as to allow more Syrian refugees into host countries where they can receive the healthcare and security they desperately require.


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