Six years of constant brutality and bloodshed in Syria has created a “terrifying mental health crisis” for a generation of traumatized children, leaving some suicidal and others unable to speak.
Those are just some of the stark findings in Save the Children’s new report Invisible Wounds. The aid agency said it is the largest mental health survey inside Syria since the war began in 2011, and warned that millions of Syrian children could be living in a state of “toxic stress.” Nearly 3 million Syrian children under the age of 6 have lived their whole lives in a warzone, according to the report’s findings, while more than 2 million children have been forced to flee the country as refugees.
“After six years of war, we are at a tipping point, after which the impact on children’s formative years and childhood development may be so great that the damage could be permanent and irreversible,” Marcia Brophy, a senior mental health adviser for Save the Children, wrote in the report.
Extended exposure to the stresses of conflict has the potential to disrupt a child’s brain and organ development irreversibly, Brophy wrote, and could result in an entire “broken generation” of children prone to mental health disorders and addiction.
“The risk of a broken generation, lost to trauma and extreme stress, has never been greater. ”
The aid agency interviewed 450 people across Syria, including children, parents, teachers, and social workers, as part of the report. Among their findings:
- Two-thirds of children had lost a loved one, been injured in the war, or had their house bombed or shelled.
- 80 percent of those interviewed said children and young people had become more aggressive, and 71 percent said children were increasingly suffering from bedwetting — common symptoms of PTSD. “I always feel angry, all the time,” said one teen from Idlib quoted in the report.
- 48 percent of adults said they had seen children who had lost their ability to speak or begun to suffer from speech impediments.
- 59 percent of adults knew of children and adolescents who had been recruited into armed groups.
- One in four children is at risk of developing a mental disorder.
A lack of schools has exacerbated the crisis in children’s mental health. About one in three schools in the country had been taken out of use — attacks on schools take place at a rate of about two a day, according to the report — and access to mental health or counseling is limited or nonexistent.
Last year, UNICEF estimated that half of Syrian children had no access to education, while nearly 80 percent of Syrian refugee children did not attend school, with the majority of them forced into the workplace.
One youth worker quoted in the report described Syrian children as living in a state of “constant anxiety.”
“They’re always stressed,” he said. “Any unfamiliar noise, if a chair moves, or if a door bangs shut, they have a reaction. This is the result of their fear — of the sound of planes, of rockets, of war.”