Coronavirus fears have triggered 'alarming' mental health crisis for displaced children in Syria, Yemen, Iraq

Coronavirus fears have triggered 'alarming' mental health crisis for displaced children in Syria, Yemen, Iraq
A mental health crisis is unfolding in Syria and other countries, with stress levels among children skyrocketing due to Covid-19 fears.
3 min read
02 September, 2020
Children fear the virus [Getty]
Displaced children in the Middle East are reporting a spike in stress levels due to fears of the coronavirus pandemic, and a mental health crisis is unfolding as a result.

Research conducted by the Norwegian Refugee Council in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Jordan has found that among children in refugee camps, stress levels increased by an average of 45 percent since the pandemic began.

The research also found that 88 percent of displaced and refugee children were suffering from stress due to coronavirus fears, and of those 75 percent were afraid of catching the illness.

Fear of someone they love getting Covid-19 stood at 48 percent, with displaced children in Yemen reporting the highest increase in stress levels.

The Yemen conflict, exacerbated by involvement from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, has killed more than 100,000 people and created the world's worst humanitarian disaster.

More than 3 million people are internally displaced and two-thirds of the population rely on food aid for survival.

"The research we’re presenting today shows how children who have already been through extremely distressing episodes, fleeing war and persecution and seeing relatives killed, are now going through another traumatic episode that, unless tackled, can lead to serious long-term mental and physical illnesses," said NRC’s Regional Psychosocial Support Adviser Camilla Lodi.

For many children already suffering due to living in war zones, such levels of chronic stress disrupt the development of major organs and lead to stress-related disease, cognitive development and disrupt the development of major organs.

"I feel stressed all the time and it makes my head hurt; we are trapped in a prison with the virus," said 12-year-old Shaher, a Syrian refugee living in Jordan’s Zaatari Camp.

"When I get stressed I just stay silent and numb," said 15-year-old Salam, displaced from Sinjar, Iraq after an Islamic State group offensive in 2014.

"It's hard because all of us are at home all the time. I have two sisters and two brothers. Often we argue and get mad at each other."

Professor Jon-Håkon Schultz, an educational psychologist and expert in children’s trauma psychology from the Arctic University of Norway, said: "Children who have previously experienced traumatic events are more vulnerable to new stress. The new Covid situation can resemble the previous traumatic experiences.

"It's the feelings of threat to life, possible severe health issues and death and destruction.

"And these feelings are the same as they experienced during bombings; during the escape; during the war days. If we cannot get these children back to school, they will suffer for the rest of their lives."

"Through our education and psychosocial programmes we see how support makes a drastic difference for affected displaced children," Lodi added.

"We need more donors to commit to longer-term funding for mental health support and further research so that we can reach more children forced to flee from conflict and help them cope with the new stress caused by the pandemic."

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