War is hell. And after six years of brutality and bloodshed, Syria's children can't take it any longer. The result? An entire generation of young Syrians are now experiencing a “terrifying mental health crisis.” Some are unable to speak while others are becoming suicidal.
Save the Children is a nonprofit organization working to help children in need across the globe. Its latest mental health survey is the largest of its kind in Syria since the beginning of the war.
According to the aid agency's Invisible Wounds report, millions of Syrian children could be under “toxic stress.”
The group warns that nearly three million of Syrian kids under the age of 6 have lived exclusively under war. And according to the report, more than two million were forced to flee also because of the conflicts.
“The children are psychologically crushed and tired,” a teacher in the town of Madaya told Save the Children. “When we do activities like singing with them, they don’t respond at all. They don’t laugh like they would normally. They draw images of children being butchered in the war, or tanks, or the siege and the lack of food.”
Senior mental health adviser for the organization Marcia Brophy says that “the impact [of war] on children’s formative years and childhood development may be so great that the damage could be permanent and irreversible.”
She worries that the extended exposure to stress and fear could disrupt the brain and organ development. Making these children prone to mental health disorders and addiction. She warns:
“The risk of a broken generation, lost to trauma and extreme stress, has never been greater.”
For this report, Save the Children interviewed 450 people across the war-ravaged country. They included children, parents, social workers, and teachers.
Their research unveiled that two-thirds of children had lost a loved one, had their house shelled or bombed, or had been injured.
According to the research's findings, 80 percent of adults interviewed said young people had become more aggressive. Over 70 percent said children were suffering from common symptoms of PTSD such as bedwetting, and 48 percent said they had seen children with speech impediments or who had lost their ability to speak.
But perhaps even more concerning is the number of children being recruited into armed groups. At least 59 percent of adult respondents said they knew of children or teens who had joined combatants.
With one in every four children in Syria at risk of developing a mental disorder, one can easily see how a lack of schools may have also exacerbated the crisis. Due to the attacks against these institutions — about two a day — one in three schools in Syria have been abandoned.
The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund estimated last year that half of Syrian children had no access to education and that 80 percent of refugee children were not attending school. The majority seems to have been forced into the workplace.
It's unsettling to hear about these children as global leaders continue to play with the fate of Syrians in what now seems to be a war of influence over the region between the United States and Russia. One can only hope that the end to this conflict is near.