Extra Mental Health Funding Needed for Syrian Refugee Children in Germany

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The ongoing Syrian civil war has displaced half the country’s population with about 50% of the displaced persons being under the age of eighteen. Germany received the most asylum claims in the European Union, close to half a million.

According to a Migration Policy Institute report, four out of five Syrian children have seen a family member die, more than half have seen someone shot or beaten, and a third have been shot or beaten themselves. Syrian refugee children also face daily stressors of displacement and life in a new culture, often without proper material and social support. These factors place the children at greater risk of developing mental illnesses. Almost half displayed symptoms of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, ten times the average global prevalence.

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When Syrian refugee children were asked to “draw a person” in Serap Ozer, Selcu Sirin and Brit Oppedal’s 2013 study, motifs of blood and death were prominent.

 

The European Union (EU) allocated over EUR 3 billion in funds through 2020 to the refugee crisis, and the EU and Germany have policies in place to address refugees’ needs. However, neither are providing refugee children with the proper mental health services. Germany’s Asylum Seekers’ Benefits Act includes policies to care for traumatized individuals, but access to treatment is difficult and limited. The funds don’t adequately cover treatment costs.

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Syrian refugee children are at high risk of developing mental illnesses so it is important to provide them with services to allow them to flourish.

An increase in funding is need to provide Syrian refugee children with robust mental health services. The additional financial resources should allow for the hiring of psychiatrists and therapists so every German school has the appropriate staff to meet the needs of the Syrian youth. A 325,000-student increase is expected in German schools due to the influx of refugees. Germany’s teacher union estimates needing over 25,000 teachers alone. We also suggest allocating more of the EU’s funding towards refugees to help support the salaries of 5,000 more mental health professionals across German schools. Congruent with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) recommendation, these mental health professionals should be trained on Syrian culture and religion, as these factors may influence the proper treatment of the children.

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5 Responses to “Extra Mental Health Funding Needed for Syrian Refugee Children in Germany”

  1. asw722 Says:

    Thank you for sharing this post on such a compelling, heartbreaking topic. The rates of PTSD among Syrian refugee children are staggering and speak to the atrocities of the war and the widespread impact that it is having in the region and around the world. I agree with your proposed increase in mental health services for refugee children (and all Syrian refugees) and would add that while it is a humanitarian and humane call to action, it likely also has economic and social implications. Better equipping refugee children with the tools to process the horrific things they have seen and endured will mitigate problems in acclimating and assimilating. Additionally, addressing these mental health problems today will be more economically beneficial than addressing the myriad other ways in which this trauma might manifest in the future.

  2. andreanoelleschultz Says:

    Very poignant posting that highlights the intense burden that the Syrian crisis is having on the youngest ones in that country and across the European Union. And with everything that we are learning about the effects of trauma during critical developmental periods, I agree that intensifying mental health services that are available for refugees is a very valuable investment. We can hopefully minimize the impacts of some of the trauma with effective interventions, because if we don’t, the physical and mental effects will carry through not only into adulthood, but through multiple generations for those who have been affected.

    I am curious to know what countries besides Germany have also seen large numbers of Syrian refugees. Do we need to consider funding across the EU as well as just in Germany? I also agree that whatever countries are supported financially, the need for an understanding of Syrian culture should definitely be a priority with planning interventions.

    • edl22 Says:

      I agree with your statement that treatment of the mental illnesses now will reduce the effects seen down the road by other generations. Yes, ultimately, funding across the EU for these children is our goal. However, we decided to start the focus on Germany since they have received the largest amount of Syrian refugees in the EU. We believe Germany has the best environment to start a program such as this, which could then spread across the region.

  3. lydiastewartblog Says:

    Thank you for discussing this important issue. As a mental health researcher, I agree with you whole heartedly that more funding for supporting mental health services for Syrian youth in Germany is an essential public health initiative. While your post focuses primarily on the burden of mental illness among these trauma-exposed youth and the need for increased services, I wonder if you can elaborate more on the types of interventions that you are advocating receive funding. As we know, the road to treatment for an illness begins at broad, population level screening and further diagnosis. Barriers to accessing treatment come in many forms. You mentioned the lack of available services for children, but how might stigma against help-seeking or cultural differences in optimal treatment delivery play a role? Should the clinical community focus only on treating children symptomatic for disorders such as PTSD or is there a case to be made for a more universal intervention to potentially alleviate subclinical levels of disorder? If you were involved in the budgetary decision making for a province, how might you allocate funding for mental health screening, treatment provision, clinical follow-up, community-level social supports, stigma reduction and so forth to design a comprehensive strategy for addressing this significant public health challenge?

    • edl22 Says:

      Thank you very much for this reply. I liked the discussion you sparked about interventions at other levels since mental disorders are influenced by a multitude of factors. Our group discussed in length about different interventions that the funding could be used for. We decided that a school intervention would be the best way to reach all (or almost all) of the adolescent Syrian refugees. The funding would be mental health professionals in all of the schools so they could screen and then provide treatment to those suffering from PTSD.

      We believe that community-level policies and programs should also be advocated for. Some ideas we had included mobile screen and educational mental health vans as well as Syrian community centers. Creating a safe space for members of the Syrian population to come together and celebrate their culture could increase moral and decrease depression. Community gatherings would also be great places to do large screenings and interventions.

      A stakeholder that we identified as potentially helpful in our advocacy campaign is Ilajnafsy (http://ilajnafsy.bzfo.de/portal/en/). They are a German-based organization that offers web-based mental health services in Arabic.

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