The escalating crisis in Syria has brought with it significant deterioration of all aspects of life for its citizens. The historical shortage of mental health professionals in the area made the psychosocial consequences more obvious and in a greater need for some remedy.
This prompted many expatriate Syrian professionals who have already volunteered their expertise from the beginning of the crisis to come together and form the Syrian Association for Mental Health (SAMH) to formalize the way forward.
SAMH was established following the recommendations of the first Syrian conference on "The psycho-social effects of the Syrian uprising and ways to deal with them", which was held in Istanbul on 27 and 28 Sep 2012. It was officially registered in the UK (its current location) on the 10 Sep 2013.
The association membership includes psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical social workers with its vision being to promote better psychological health and wellbeing. SAMH aims to serve all Syrians irrespective of gender, age, religion, and sect, whether inside or outside Syria, and all others living in Syria.
It also aspires to become an established leading scientific association, offering supervised services, consultations, studies and research in the field of psychiatry, psychology and clinical social work.
SAMH held its second conference in Gaziantep, Turkey on 15-16 Feb 2014 with the theme being "For better mental health care during crisis". The conference was well attended by 120 Syrians, including psychiatrists, psychologists and other volunteers. Good number of participants came from inside Syria with others arriving from different parts of the world. The vast majority have already been involved and working with displaced Syrians with both existing psychological problems and those arising as a consequence of the crisis.
The conference program included 25 different presentations, lectures and workshops with various emphases on psychological therapies and other psychosocial support. There was also a full Programme of workshops, training sessions, supervision which ran for one week before the conference and one week after. This focused on participants gaining skills on psychological first aid, group therapies, use of EMDR, CBT, self support and training for teachers who are dealing with children with psychological problems.
Recommendations of the conference
- to develop a strategy to cover the mental health needs of displaced Syrians,
- continue to offer support and supervision to teams on the ground,
- work alongside and coordinate efforts with other humanitarian and support agencies working in the area,
- establish links with other international bodies interested in helping displaced Syrians
- offer advice and help to facilitate their efforts.
We highly acknowledged the need to offer supervision and other refresher courses to current volunteers and those joining later to support them in maintaining their skills and to avoid burn out.
SAMH has UK members of the Royal College of Psychiatrists who are keen to carry out a scoping exercise of the mental health needs of Syrian refugees and the College capacity to assist.