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Children suffering from PTSD after Syria and Turkey earthquakes

17 March 2023

Alamy

Abd al-Rahman al-Raya, who lost his wife and two of his children in the earthquake, shows a picture of his injured daughter, aged five, inside a tent in a make-shift shelter at the Bab al-Hawa Border Crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border, on 1 March

Abd al-Rahman al-Raya, who lost his wife and two of his children in the earthquake, shows a picture of his injured daughter, aged five, inside a tent ...

CHILDREN and adults are suffering from secondary trauma, including showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), after the earthquakes which struck parts of Syria and Turkey last month (News, 10 February, 24 February, 3 March).

Many of the children affected in north-western Syria were already suffering psychological distress from the years of conflict which have torn the country apart.

Two separate small-scale surveys, carried out by the Christian charity World Vision, and Médecins Sans Frontières, in the earthquake zone, found that children were suffering from PTSD, and many adults were suffering from secondary trauma, after the earthquakes on 6 February, which killed more than 55,000 people.

Besides dealing with loss of family members and homes, survivors have experienced the fear and anxiety caused by almost 10,000 aftershocks that followed the initial quakes. Health-care workers and rescue workers are among those worst affected.

A mental-health specialist at the World Health Organization country office in Turkey, Dr Akfer Karaoglan Kahilogullari, said: “Many are continuing in their caring roles because they want to help their communities at a time of national crisis, but, in doing so, they may be postponing their own grief, and adding to their own trauma through dealing with so much death and injury.”

Other front-line workers, she said, including faith workers, needed urgent support to help them cope with what they were having to deal with daily in their jobs, as a result of the earthquakes.

“Secondary trauma is everywhere,” she said. “The whole country is either directly or indirectly affected; so the mental-health needs are truly unprecedented. There is also a high volume of complicated grief, with so many people struggling to come to terms with their loss, unable to bury their dead, or perform the important religious rites that are part of their culture for saying goodbye to a loved one. Some don’t even have a body to bury, which makes the grieving process that much harder.”

World Vision has carried out a rapid needs assessment of 322 families in Syria. It found that 82 per cent were living in shelters, and 84 per cent said that their children could not access their schools. Even before the earthquakes, the charity said, the majority of children in Syria were suffering symptoms of PTSD because of the conflict.

World Vision’s Syria response director, Johan Mooij, said: “Headlines are slowing down, the cameras have left, while piles of rubble have not moved, bodies have not been found, and children, in many of the cases, have not been able to bury parents and loved ones.

“However, the lasting carnage of the earthquake and 12 years of conflict is not just the visible destruction, but the mental and emotional damage, too. Sadly, the children in north-west Syria are no strangers to persistent, pervasive, and catastrophic trauma.

“Mental-health experts at World Vision who have witnessed horror scenarios like this unfold before, have said that this level of mental anguish and suffering, if left untreated, will lead to a mental-health catastrophe that was already growing due to the protracted conflict in Syria. One month on since the devastating earthquake hit Turkey and Syria, the scale of the humanitarian response has yet to meet the enormous needs of displaced Syrian families and children who have suffered from compounded crises for almost 12 years now.”

A survey by Médecins Sans Frontières of people living in ten districts in Turkey found that the percentage of people reporting symptoms of psychological distress and shock was considerable.

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