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 Remote psychological counseling service in northern Syrian regions 

People on the streets of Sarmin city in the eastern countryside of Idlib before Iftar - 8 Nisan 2020 (Enab Baladi)

People on the streets of Sarmin city in the eastern countryside of Idlib before Iftar - 8 Nisan 2020 (Enab Baladi)

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Enab Baladi – Idlib 

A large segment of Syrian people in northern Syria may not consider psychological counseling to be a basic health need, in comparison with other requirements such as chronic diseases. Therefore, the need to promote awareness about mental health as well as about the importance of preventing and treating mental illness has stood out. 

Within this objective, the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM) launched a “remote” mental health services free of charge, over the phone last April, through which it provides psychological support to former patients or individuals wishing to obtain psychological counseling. 

The regional project director of the UOSSM’s mental health program, Alaa al-Ali, told Enab Baladi that the World Health Organization (WHO)-supported service, targets the age group of 18 years and above. Two counseling psychologists will work, as the start of the project, on 12-hour rotating shifts during the weekdays, starting from 8 a. m. to 8 p. m, except Fridays. 

The two counseling psychologists provide medical services, and the beneficiary is free to disclose his personal information such as name, age, and profession or not to share it with the counseling psychologist. The identity of the beneficiary of the counseling service is kept confidential. “The priority is to treat the patient and help him recover from his psychological health problem regardless of his identity,” according to al-Ali. 

There are two supporting WhatsApp numbers for those experiencing psychological problems: +352681124784 and +3526811247783. The project also includes a follow-up service, which directs callers, based on their needs, to other health services providers.

According to al-Ali, in the beginning, the project experienced a high turnout of patients, as it provided a new service, and the individuals who first called were registered in files to follow up on their situation. 

The project was set up to provide health services for Syrian people only inside Syria. Still, according to al-Ali, people called to get psychological counseling from outside the Syrian regions, from the Syrian refugee camps in neighboring countries.

According to Ali, he is required to go to the nearest medical center in northern Syria to complete the follow-up of his psychological condition.

The psychologist evaluates the psychological state of the patient during the counseling interview on WhatsApp and recognizes that the patient needs to visit the medical center in order to receive treatment (face to face) with psychiatrists who can prescribe him medication for his condition.  

According to al-Ali, the patient, then, is asked to go to the nearest medical center in northern Syria, to complete the follow-up of his psychological condition’s treatment. 

Enab Baladi could not communicate with project beneficiaries to preserve the confidentiality of their cases.

Al-Ali stressed that the number of patients communicating with the counseling psychologists has increased, adding that “the thing that makes us feel that the region needs such a project is the high number of calls the counseling psychologists receive, which is estimated at 90 per month from different regions.”  

Several medical agencies have been providing psychological support programs in northern Syria. According to research obtained by Enab Baladi, in 2019, from the “Hope Revival” organization, researchers considered that the number of psycho-social support programs in Syria is “somehow acceptable.”

According to the research, programs of all kinds are not “sufficient” to reform and improve the psychological condition of the patient alone, if they are not associated with economic, political, social, human rights, and development programs that support the human being and enhance wellness among individuals and society, according to the research.

Most organizations interested in providing psychological support in their programs rely on programs developed by international organizations, such as the “Red Crescent” and “Red Cross “organizations.

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