October 10 commemorates World Mental Health Day and is observed, in part, to raise public awareness about mental health issues. One matter that deserves critical attention is better integrating mental health care in global humanitarian responses.
Most of the world's refugees are forced from their homes because of war or the threat of violence. In fact, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more people are refugees or internally displaced than at any time since 1994 with war remaining the dominant cause. More than two million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries, including Jordan, creating a refugee emergency of epic proportions since the violence began in 2011. The United Nations now projects the number of refugees will reach 3.2 million by December and increase by another two million in 2014.
For refugee torture and war trauma survivors, especially in places with few or no mental health resources, the consequences of neglecting their mental health needs can be severe and long lasting. Along with the physical pain, the effects of torture can be psychologically debilitating, leading to incessant nightmares, anxiety, depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. These symptoms make it difficult for the survivor to care for themselves and their families. They can become immobilized by their feelings and unable to function.
Among the Syrian refugees are highly-traumatized survivors of torture and other human rights abuses. Their numbers are rapidly growing and their psychological suffering is immense.
We know because we are bringing healing to Syrian refugees living in and around Amman, Jordan.
Our Jordan staff daily hears stories from Syrian refugees of torture, killings, imprisonment, and being shot at while trying to cross the border. Some Syrians have witnessed the destruction of their homes and the massacre of their families. Children are also experiencing the effects of the conflict. They witness terrible violence against their loved ones and their communities. Others have shared stories of the most horrific forms of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse while imprisoned.
The scale of violence is almost impossible to comprehend.
Yet, even after such terrible experiences, torture survivor rehabilitation programs are effective in helping survivors heal from their trauma and rebuild meaningful lives of dignity.
Since 1985, the Center for Victims of Torture has worked worldwide in ongoing and post-conflict areas to provide direct mental health and other services to refugee torture and war trauma survivors and to develop specialized treatment skills for the local population through training and supervision. By doing so, we are creating a foundation for healing and recovery that will remain in the long term.
The healing care we provide includes mental health, physiotherapy, and social referrals and case management. With access to CVT mental health interventions, these individuals are seeing their physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual health improve. We follow up with survivors after they receive care, and they consistently tell us symptoms like anxiety, depression, and somatic symptoms have decreased and that relations with their families and communities are better.
But our resources, like many torture survivor rehabilitation centers worldwide, are stretched. Our staff in Jordan has a waiting list of refugees who desperately need treatment.
The international community should use World Mental Health Day as an opportunity to demonstrate their support for torture survivor rehabilitation by increasing their contributions to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. The Fund brings together much-needed contributions into one fund for torture survivor rehabilitation, thereby playing a significant role in supporting the rehabilitation of hundreds of thousands of torture survivors worldwide.
Let us begin today, and continue every day, bringing knowledge, awareness, and advocacy to better integrating mental health care in global humanitarian responses. By doing so, we are helping refugee torture and war trauma survivors heal, rebuild their lives, and restore their hope.
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