Trauma, anxiety haunt more than half of Syrian refugee children

Some 60 percent of Syrian refugee children in Turkey suffer from psychiatric illnesses resulting from trauma and anxiety, a doctor who has been monitoring them found. Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Dr. Veysi Çeri from Pendik Research Hospital in Istanbul says six out of every 10 refugee children have "at least one psychiatric illness." Çeri is among a group of doctors who conducted surveys on the mental health of the young refugees.

Turkey hosts more than 3.5 million refugees and the majority of them are women and children. Seven years of war in Syria has displaced millions and forced them to take shelter in neighboring countries. Children in families who fled the cities and towns devastated by constant airstrikes cling to life in refugee camps on Turkey's border or live with their families in rented houses, depending mostly on charities for survival.

Çeri said they have conducted four surveys since 2014 on refugee children between the ages of 7 and 17 and the figure of 60 percent was compiled from those surveys. Post-traumatic stress disorder and depression are more prevalent in children and "this leads to serious strains in children's social, academic and familial functions." "For example, children fear going out. Even if they go to school, they cannot concentrate on their studies as these illnesses affect their mind. We are aware that untreated anxiety disorders may push people toward drug and alcohol addictions, addictions that they think would relieve them of stress. If we cannot treat them properly today, we will have an unschooled adult generation who does not speak Turkish [with a backlog of problems]."

Children are naturally the most vulnerable members of the large refugee community, with only a small fraction of its members living in modern camps set up on Turkey's border with Syria. Turkey offers psychological and social support at the camps, while charities and the ministries strive to reach out to children living outside camps through support programs. Education is a main concern and the country has more than 610,000 Syrian children enrolled at schools, so far.

Çeri says the broader refugee population also suffers from psychiatric illnesses. Many have not applied for treatment and even if they do, they still face language barriers. "Healthcare staff specialized in psychiatry can be trained on the matter. Certainly, a state policy is needed to handle the problem," he added, urging children's psychiatry services to be opened in places with a high refugee population and that they should be manned with psychiatrists and social workers with knowledge on the refugees' culture.