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Almost half of Syrian migrants suffer from mental illness Dutch study shows

More than 40 percent of Syrian asylum applicants in the Netherlands have psychological problems like depression and anxiety or worse, according to a study by the Dutch social and cultural planning office SCP.

Published: June 15, 2018, 8:58 am

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    Despite suffering from mental challenges, they almost never turn to health care for help. The SCP spoke to 44 000 Syrians who were given refugee status in the Netherlands between January 2014 and July 2016, ANP reported.

    Dutch media have often called such migrants “confused” but the problem is much more serious.

    The percentage of Syrian refugees with mental health problems is much higher than the average in the Netherlands. “Among the general population in the Netherlands, this percentage is around 13 percent”, the SCP said. “Syrian refugees, however, make much less use of mental health care than the general population.”

    Although Dutch authorities claim these migrants have mental health problems as a result of having escaped dire circumstances, they have not yet examined the effect of the lack of integration and the cultural divide in Dutch society.

    According to the researchers, most migrants suffered many hardships before arriving in the Netherlands. “The refugees who fled over land spent an average of one year on their way to the Netherlands. A quarter of those who fled (partly) over land say that they slept outside and usually had insufficient food and clean drinking water”, the SCP said. “In addition, three quarters were victims of abuse, extortion or shipwreck. Three quarters of refugees never felt safe during their flight to the Netherlands.”

    Some 83 percent of Syrian migrants came to The Netherlands aided by human traffickers, and the overwhelming majority of them have entered into debt to pay for the crossing. The vast majority of Syrian migrants living in the Netherlands with psychiatric problems, according to the research, took an average of one year to get there. The SCP report said three-quarters were also victims of abuse or blackmail and a large number were shipwrecked.

    But even though they suffer from severe mental problems, more than 75 percent of Syrian migrants in the Netherlands told the SCP that they felt at home in the country. On average they say their lives had improved in 8.5 out of 10 cases.

    Some 93 percent expect to still live in the Netherlands after five years, if they can’t return to Syria. A fifth would return to Syria if that were possible. Over half never want to go back, and a quarter have not yet decided.

    Alarmingly however, only a tenth of Syrian migrants met their civic integration obligation. The SCP also found that 78 percent do not have a paid job. Those who work, have jobs that are mainly short-term unskilled positions.

    Jaco Dagevos of the SCP told Dutch state broadcaster NOS that previous research indicated that after a period of optimism, migrants become more negative, and find it hard to integrate into Dutch society.

    Dutch government ministers said they were concerned about the number of Syrian refugees with psychiatric problems and planned to look into improving mental health services at asylum centres as there have been several recent violent attacks involving Syrian migrants.

    Research shows that refugees and migrants are also at an increased risk of developing schizophrenia, The Scientific American reported.

    A 2005 meta-analysis of studies performed mostly in northern Europe showed that first- and second-generation migrants were at much greater risk of schizophrenia than non-migrants—and that those from developing countries were more at risk than those from developed ones.

    And there is sadly a racial dimension to the problem: The 2005 meta-analysis also showed that black migrants in a mostly white population had an almost fivefold increased risk of psychotic disorders.

    Last month, a Syrian who was known to have serious psychiatric problems stabbed three people near the Hollands Spoor railway station. And more recently, another Syrian was arrested after killing a police dog with an axe around in Schiedam.

    As an experiment, Syrian migrants are being housed in empty prisons.

    Clinical psychologist Thomas Elbert from the University of Konstanz in Germany has conducted a local survey of migrants that suggests “more than half of those who arrived in Germany in the last few years show signs of mental disorder, and a quarter of them have a PTSD, anxiety or depression that won’t get better without help”.

    Elbert noted: “It is illusory to think that people can learn a new language and find work when they can’t function properly mentally. If we want quick integration, we need an immediate plan for mental health.”

    Epidemiologist James Kirkbride of University College London, said: “It is a public-health tragedy — and it’s a scandal that it is not recognized as such, as a physical epidemic would be.”

    Kirkbride said a more recent analysis of UK migration data suggests that the level of increased risk of psychotic disorders may depend on how old people were when they migrated — with children potentially at greater risk.

    Jean-Paul Selten, a psychiatrist at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, said that pressures such as social exclusion may raise the risk of psychosis.

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