Mental Health and Conflict

Solving mental health crises among refugee populations and those in conflict-stricken areas.

“Syrian refugees: A mental health crisis.” 2016.

Between one to two billion people live in areas of intense conflict. Concerning people living in war zones, anywhere between 30–70% of them develop indications of PTSD and/or depression. People who are affected by violent conflict are far more likely to suffer from mental illnesses than those who are not. Tragically, according to University of Konstanz psychologist Thomas Elbert, “more than half of those [refugees] who arrived in Germany in the last few years show signs of mental disorder, and a quarter of them have a PTSD, anxiety or depression.” However, in 2015 the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals — seventeen commitments to improve the quality of the world for us and for posterity. Specifically, Goal #3 Good Health and Wellbeing emphasizes the treatment of mental disorders.

The maddening violent conflict in Syria, stemming from a civil war beginning in 2011, is a valuable case study to evaluate the effects of war on mental health. As mentioned previously, over half of Syrian refugees entering Germany have mental trauma. An astounding seventy percent have experienced violence and half have suffered from violence. In Turkey, over half of refugees are in need of psychological assistance. Moreover, the International Medical Corps assess that over a quarter of refugee children in IMC health centers encounter “intellectual and developmental challenges.” Nearly half of child refugees develop PTSD. Furthermore, the lack of medical professionals remains a critical challenge for promoting mental wellbeing among the refugee population. Refugees often have limited access to the proper healthcare they deserve — thus, host countries need to develop effective strategies to expand health services especially mental services. Meanwhile, and more notably, the international community should work together to give countries with large amounts of refugees the aid they need to fight back against the mental health crisis.

However, while treating mental health among refugees is one thing, treating mental health in the actual areas of conflict is another. Luckily, there has been fantastic success at providing those services in violent areas. For example, in 2016 the World Health Organization conducted a study in Pakistan to see if they can improve the mental wellbeing of those in the heart of conflict. The program, Problem Management Plus (PM+), evaluated the mental health of mostly victims or witnesses of war — 94% of participants suffered from depression and had high levels of PTSD and anxiety. Each participant took part in five sessions designed to improve their mental condition. Over a three-month period, levels of anxiety and PTSD decreased among participants and the number of participants who suffered from depression dropped to 27%(!).

Solving mental health issues especially in areas of intense conflict remains a significant global problem today. Millions of people are displaced from their homes every year, many becoming refugees fleeing to foreign countries. Mental suffering is one of the many terrible consequences of war, affecting men, women, and children. To reduce this suffering means to stop violence. To stop violence requires a complex web of cooperation, geo-political/historical and social understanding, and most importantly a commitment to sustainable development to create security and opportunity for everyone around the world.