LONDON, March 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Children
living in war-torn Syria, some as young as 12, are self-harming,
taking drugs, and attempting suicide to escape the horrors they
have endured after six years of conflict, an international aid
group said on Monday.
One in four children, around 2.5 million, are on the brink
of developing a mental health disorder, said Save the Children
in the most comprehensive report of its kind to document the
mental health of children in Syria.
Nearly five million Syrians have fled the country since the
war began in 2011, but 13.5 million people remain in need of aid
in Syria and almost half are children, according to the United
Nations' humanitarian agency, UNOCHA.
Nightmares, bedwetting, anger, suicidal thoughts and
depression are a few of the symptoms plaguing Syrian children,
who suffer from an endless barrage of trauma from bombings,
death and destruction, it said.
Most of the children interviewed for the report were too
fearful to play outside, have dropped out of school, or have
witnessed the death of a friend or relative.
"About five to six months ago, a child who was 12 years old
committed suicide. We never had something like this before, even
for older people," Syrian mental health worker Sharif was quoted
as saying in the report.
"His dad was killed in a car bomb. They tried to explain to
the child that now your dad is a martyr and he is going to
paradise, so the child thought that if he died he would see his
dad. He hung himself with a scarf."
Psychologist Marcia Brophy, who spoke to 458 Syrian adults
and children for the report, said living in a constant state of
fear and anxiety, known as "toxic stress", could lead to serious
long-term health issues.
"These children, their bodies are in constant 'fight or
flight' - and that accumulative level of toxic stress will
undoubtedly have huge long-term consequences ... and it could
lead to lifelong medical issues as well," said Brophy.
More and more children were self-harming, taking drugs and
attempting suicide, Brophy told the Thomson Reuters Foundation,
and they were doing so at an increasingly younger age.
"It's incredibly troubling. But it's not really surprising
given that these children are living in a highly stressful
environment," Brophy said. "It's a way of coping and dealing
with a really abnormal, stressful situation."
She said communities should talk more openly about mental
health, and aid agencies must make mental health support a
priority across all humanitarian situations.
"It's a taboo issue, it's very hard to talk about. Given
that this is a protracted conflict situation ... we need to have
mental health and psychosocial support integrated into any
emergency response," Brophy said.
(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Ros Russell;
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