International Medical Corps Says Children of the Syria Crisis Need Mental Health Care

THE HAGUE--International Medical Corps’ leading mental health specialist has highlighted the need to engage the Middle East’s displaced children and youth in meaningful activities and making mental health and psychosocial support easily accessible by integrating such services with health clinics and community centers.

The recommendations were contained in remarks by International Medical Corps Global Mental Health Advisor Inka Weissbecker and were based on the organization’s experience in supporting young people affected by Syria’s bitter civil war and now living mainly as refugees in neighboring Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey or Iraq.

Her comments came at a symposium in The Hague held May 26-28, to study the impact of violence on the mental health and psychosocial well-being of children growing up amid armed conflict. The event was convened by UNICEF and the Government of The Netherlands in partnership with several other agencies and organizations, including International Medical Corps.

Weissbecker stressed that, especially in urban areas, there is a need to expand access to activities for young people such as English language and computer classes, and skills courses. She noted that opportunities for community engagement and creative activities through community centers and child-friendly safe spaces, were also important.

Such activity centers also make it easier to identify children and youth struggling with mental health problems such as depression and to refer them to appropriate health services. Weissbecker reported that International Medical Corps is also training general health care providers--including Syrians—to detect and address mental health problems. Case managers then follow up to ensure that those with mental health issues are put in touch with any additional services they may need. These case managers also help address problems in the child’s family or school environment.

Among other recommendations drawn from International Medical Corps’ experience in addressing the needs of young Syria refugee children:

• remain alert to a broad range of mental health and neurological problems that affect refugee children, including developmental disorders;

• help affected Syrian youth engage positively in their communities and become agents for positive change, especially in urban areas.

Children have been especially hard-hit by Syria civil war. Through December, 2014, more than 10,000 have been killed and countless others wounded through the use of indiscriminate weapons including poison gas, so-called “barrel bombs” and suicide bombings. About 1.1 million children are now refugees—three-quarters of them under 12, meaning they have spent much of their young lives effectively adrift in a sea of conflict.

Weissbecker’s comments –and those of other participants in the symposium—can be heard in full at: http://mhpss.net/growing-up-in-conflict/