Syrian refugee Fatmeh fled to safety in Lebanon in 2011 after militants raided the family home, beat her up and tried to rape her. But her problems were far from over.
Two months after the attack Fatmeh – then aged about 12 – developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “Her mental illness became obvious when she started walking down the streets while screaming and beating herself,” said Lebanese psychotherapist Charelle Ghazal. “She had regular nightmares of someone trying to rape her. She put knives under her pillow to protect herself. She was awake all night and slept during the day when her family was awake.”
More than a million Sy-rians have fled to Lebanon since the start of the conflict five years ago, placing a huge strain on health services in the small Mediterranean country.
Up to one fifth of refugees may be suffering from mental health disorders, but gaps in Lebanon’s mostly private mental health services and a major shortage of mental health professionals mean many refugees’ needs are not being met.
“The public health system in Lebanon is under tremendous pressure and the specialised services that are currently offered for Syrians in need of mental healthcare are not enough,” said Rabih Chammay, head of Lebanon’s mental health programme at the Ministry of Public Health.
There is no data on the number of Syrian refugees with mental health problems, but the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates 15 to 20% of people in a humanitarian crisis suffer mild or moderate disorders, suggesting 200,000 Syrians in Lebanon could be affected.
Witnessing atrocities and losing one’s loved ones, home, livelihood, friends, community and social standing can all create or worsen mental health problems.
The daily stresses of living as a refugee – lack of access to basic necessities and limited work and education opportunities – add to the pressure.