After almost 12 years of conflict, 4.6 million people – 80% of whom are women and children – remain trapped in Northwest Syria.1 Most of them have had to flee their homes at least once, and almost 2 million are in displacement camps. Hunger is rife, and as the economic situation worsens, so too does their mental health.
A new report published by World Vision in collaboration with No Lost Generation (NLG) entitled Reaching the Final Straw, reveals the shocking facts of Northwest Syria’s mental health crisis. Spurred by data gathered by the World Health Organisation that revealed a tripling of suicides in the first half of 2022, with girls under 18 being most impacted,2 this autumn World Vision and its partners spoke to over 100 women, men, and young people about the mental health situation in Idlib.
Over 90% of people surveyed said that deaths by suicide had increased in the past year, and over half said that adolescents, and particularly girls, were at risk. Three-quarters of respondents said poverty and inability to meet their basic needs was the primary cause of suicidal ideation among young people. Women and girls’ mental health was particularly impacted by limited mobility in Northwest Syria due to a lack of security, and risk of exposure to various forms of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), such as sexual harassment, domestic violence, or child marriage. These findings were corroborated by in-depth discussions and interviews with frontline workers and mental health experts working in Northwest Syria.
Eleanor Monbiot, World Vision Regional Leader for the Middle East and Eastern Europe said, “Funding for the Syria crisis continues to dwindle as the world shifts its attention to other crises, but the humanitarian needs in Northwest Syria are greater than ever before. Our staff and partners have seen first-hand the toll the conflict and uncertainty for the future are having on children and their families, and this data should provide a wake-up call that we all need to do more.”
The World Vision study revealed that despite rising mental health needs, with two-thirds of respondents believing children were very likely to act on suicidal thoughts, 44% of people did not know of any mental health services for children. Shockingly, the younger the age of the people spoke to, the more likely they were to believe that children would act on their suicidal ideation.
Johan Mooij, World Vision Syria Response Director said, “If we do not act now, we are in danger of losing an entire generation of children and young people. Girls’ deaths by suicide are significantly under-reported, and yet they were still the largest group of recorded deaths by suicide between early 2021 and mid-2022.3 The combination of perpetual conflict, high risk of sexual and gender-based violence, and economic crisis is leaving children without hope for the future. It is critical that the world does not forget Syria’s children.”
It is undeniable that the mental health of both adults and children residing in Northwest Syria is closely tied to the dire socio-economic situation they have been experiencing for more than a decade. Maintaining access to vital humanitarian assistance through the cross-border corridor is essential to avoid more deaths by suicide and address suicidal ideation in this particularly isolated border area.