Mental health needs can often come with a stigma, discouraging people from seeking help. A Syrian woman at one of Medair’s psychosocial support sessions said: “I don’t want people to know that I am coming here. They will think I am too weak and that I have time to spend on issues that are not important instead of focusing on how to get food for my children or finding money to send them to school.”
Worldwide, about one person in four will be affected by a mental health disorder at some point in their life. Yet, more than 70% of those in need lack access to mental health services. Despite their increased need, people in humanitarian emergencies are disproportionally unable to access mental health care. Stigma, shortage of mental health specialists, and low-quality or unavailable mental health care contribute to the mental health treatment gap.
“Your sessions give me a chance to talk and let go of what I have experienced. It also reminds me that we’re in this together. I’m not alone. Many other women have been facing the same hardships as me.”
As a humanitarian community, we cannot ignore the mental health and psychosocial well-being of the people we serve. If we do, the psychological consequences of the widespread traumatic stress caused by conflicts and disasters could prove to be as bad as the disasters themselves. We can give people safe drinking water, health care, and safe shelter but we also need to look for ways to rebuild their broken minds and help them to stand up emotionally.
We cannot fail the Syrian refugees and the millions of others forcibly displaced. Like Rashid’s family, many Syrians are exposed to traumatic stress every day and children are growing up with high levels of stress and trauma. People are incredibly resilient and capable of getting back on their feet. But when the guns fall silent, the emotional wounds will still be there and may prevent people from recovering and rebuilding their lives. The humanitarian community needs to stand with them and help them heal. The time to act is now.
Parts of this article have been published by the Church of England newspaper.