The war on civilians in Syria is still waging and the number of refugees and internally displaced continue to grow with endless suffering. Syrian mental health professionals and other sympathisers continue to work hard to meet some of the mental health needs of the affected Syrians...
The fourth annual conference of the Syrian Association for Mental Health, in coordination with the Syrian Refugees Taskforce at the College, was held in Gaziantep, Turkey on 23-24 April 2016. The theme for the conference was “Mental health care for Syrian refugees and internally displaced”. The conference as previously, had a two-day academic meeting and an accompanying program that ran over two weeks. It was well attended by Syrian psychiatrists, psychologists, allied mental health professionals and other volunteers with over 130 attendees who actively participated during the sessions.
The talks mainly focused on the reality of psychiatric care provided inside Syria and in countries of refuge, the experiences of the teams operating on the ground and the challenges that face them. Discussions included methods to explore and identify the psychological needs of refugees and ways to study and help address these needs. Various psychotherapeutic approaches and their effectiveness were discussed with possible ways to overcome the potential challenges. The importance of self-help methods, ways of self-management and the community and individual’s role were highlighted and emphasised.
During the accompanying program that was delivered in several towns of southern Turkey there were many workshops and training sessions. One of the highlights of this program was the delivery of EMDR training by Sian Morgan from HAP UK & Ireland (EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Programme) with help from Dr. Walid Abdulhamid and Dr. Khalid Sultan as facilitators. It ran over 4 days and trained 42 participants with agreed ways to help supervise attendees in the coming months. Other activities included workshops on the WHO mhGAP training program, mental health support to healthcare professionals, focus on healthcare workers burn out issues, use of CBT techniques, psychodrama, skills in dealing with traumatised children and adolescents as well as highlighting the legal and ethical aspects of mental health practice.
Some participants also visited the refugee camps, schools, orphanages and Syrian communities in southern Tukey for support and advice on recognising some aspect of mental health problems in children. Some therapeutic sessions and counselling were also possible when visiting the local support teams and clinics.
The conference has succeeded in highlighting some of the mental health needs of displaced Syrians and explored further the needs of field workers and other volunteers working with affected Syrians. More resources are required to sustain these efforts and to develop them. There still lots to be done to accurately evaluate the psychological sequelae of this unprecedented crisis and ways to address them now and in the future.