Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Syrian Refugees in Turkey

By Karaman, Mehmet A.; Ricard, Richard J. | The Professional Counselor, July 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Syrian Refugees in Turkey


Karaman, Mehmet A., Ricard, Richard J., The Professional Counselor


The Arab Spring has affected many Arabic countries in the region and resulted in regime changes and general disruption in people's lives (Khan, Ahmad, & Shah, 2014). The Arab Spring refers to a wave of revolutionary civil unrest, riots, demonstrations and protests in the Arab world that began in December 2010 in Tunisia, and spread throughout the countries of the Arab League and its surroundings ("Arab Spring", n.d.). The Syrian Republic is embroiled in a civil war in which separatists have been protesting for more democratic rights and the imposition of a civilian government. The region has been further destabilized by the conflict surrounding ethnic origin, and the political and religious activities of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Approximately 6 million people have taken refuge in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt since the Syrian conflict began in 2011 (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR], 2016). According to the UNHCR (2016), the Republic of Turkey (Turkey) has accommodated the largest number of Syrian refugees in the region. The Turkish government quickly took the necessary steps, such as opening the border and providing food and shelter, after the first group of Syrian refugees entered Turkey on April 9, 2011. To date, there are roughly 2.8 million refugees living in camps and urban areas; half of these refugees are children (UNHCR, 2016). The majority of refugees (90%) live outside of camps and are surviving under challenging circumstances compared to the refugees who live in camps. Refugee camps offer health care, education, food, security and social services. However, refugees who live outside of camps have limited access to information and public services such as education and health care.

Syrian refugees are enduring daily challenges to physical and mental survival. In addition to the extreme needs for physical and nutritional interventions, mental health professionals recognize the urgent need for counseling services based on widespread documented reports of refugees' exile experiences and exposure to multiple sources of trauma (Sirin & Rogers-Sirin, 2015). This crisis has resulted in a population of displaced people suffering from a number of mental health issues (Alpak et al., 2014; Betancourt et al., 2015; Clarke & Borders, 2014; Özer, Çirin, & Oppedal, 2013). For example, Önen, Güne§, Türeme, and Agaç (2014) conducted a quantitative study on Syrians who resettled in refugee camps. The results indicated that 19% of refugees reported high levels of anxiety and 9% experienced high levels of depression. In a recent study, Alpak et al. (2014) reported that approximately one third (33.5%) of Syrian refugees showed symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The fact that many of the displaced Syrians are especially vulnerable children living far from their homes, cultures and countries further highlights the magnitude of the crisis (Özer et al., 2013). Recent reports indicate that up to 50% of the Syrian refugees are children suffering from exposure to severe traumatic events at rates higher than their adult counterparts (Sirin & Rogers-Sirin, 2015). Özer et al. (2013) reported that 74% of Syrian children in a refugee camp have experienced the loss of a family member or a loved one, and 60% of children felt their lives were in danger. These self-reports of distress and concern are consistent with another recent study of 8,000 displaced Syrian children who reported constant fears (15.1%) and suicidal thoughts (26%; James, Sovcik, Garoff, & Abbasi, 2014).

Several indicators suggest that the severity of the current Syrian refugee crisis is unprecedented. A recent meta-analysis compared the relative rates of mental health disorders between refugees from different world regions and ultimate country of relocation (Fazel, Wheeler, & Danesh, 2005). Fazel et al. (2005) found that while up to 10% of refugees who relocated in Western countries experienced symptoms of PTSD, major depression and generalized anxiety disorder, the frequency of these diagnoses is significantly greater among the current Syrian refugee population (Alpak et al. …

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