Syrians and psychiatry: Social judgment has changed

Illustration (Edited by Enab Baladi)

Illustration (Edited by Enab Baladi)


Enab Baladi – Yamen Moghrabi

“The great pressures and old problems I had with other personal matters prompted me to seek the help of a psychologist,” marketing consultant Laila al-Sahili told Enab Baladi.

The experience of the Istanbul-based al-Sahili did not come as a result of her awareness of the need to seek the help of a psychiatrist, as much as it came from her urgent need to get rid of these problems, but with experience, she discovered that periodic review is very necessary, she told Enab Baladi.

Hardships of living and economic conditions and the large number of Syrians seeking refuge in Europe, Turkey, and other countries have changed their social view of a number of issues and phenomena, including psychiatry.

This change was linked to a number of factors, such as the change of society, migration, and the great pressures that Syrians suffer from on the social, political, and economic levels.

Talib Ghannoum a mechanical engineer, whose arrival in Sweden in 2016 helped him develop his view of psychiatry and increase his knowledge of it, especially with the negative view of psychiatry that exists among various segments of Syrian society.

Ghannoum was exposed to a lot of psychological pressure after his arrival in Sweden, starting with the delay in obtaining residency, the loneliness he felt for a long time, and his inability to find a job, all of which prompted him to see a psychiatrist, so that he could continue amid all these pressures.

For her part, Istanbul-based Nour said that mental illness is like any other physical disease, and it is normal to go to the doctor for treatment.

Why do you have to go to a doctor or psychologist?

Some people refuse to see doctors, therapists, and psychologists to help them overcome their psychological problems, which negatively affects their psychological lives and may lead to physical illnesses as well.

According to psychotherapist Mohamed al-Sayed, mental disorders are a reality, not an illusion, and people with depression, for example, have weaker immunity and their hearts work differently as well.

In addition, the failure to solve the psychological problems of the individual directly affects his performance in work and life and his social relations.

Many countries allocate millions of dollars annually for mental health issues because mental disorders affecting individuals affect the overall performance of the economy, said the psychotherapist.

Different view of psychiatry

The view among segments of the Syrian society relates to the psychological patient as being possessed by the jinn or insane, and some seek the help of quackery and sorcery, or methods related to religions, for treatment, such as “Islamic Sharia reciting,” and there are similar ideas in the Christian religion as well.

Changing this view of segments of Syrian society who migrated outside the country towards Europe or Turkey is due, according to Laila al-Sahili, to the emergence of many psychological problems and complexes among Syrians after the Syrian revolution in 2011.

Al-Sahili added that the Syrians, who were fortunate enough to reach Europe or Turkey, changed their view of the absence of societal stigma in conjunction with many awareness campaigns spread through social media.

While Nour believes that many Syrians have changed their view of psychological treatment after being exposed to more psychological culture and mixing with different peoples, and the great pressures they were subjected to, despite this, many still consider it a stigma, despite the frequent talk about the need for psychological treatment.

Ghannoum believes that the negative view of various segments of Syrians towards the mentally ill, as mentally unbalanced or insane, is caused by a lack of knowledge and a lack of awareness and medical education of society, in contrast to European countries that provide many services to new refugees, including psychological assistance through specialists.

Al-Sahili attributes the process of changing the perception of psychiatry to the emergence of new methods of treatment and therapists, unlike the prevailing ones, which were monopolized by a number of psychiatrists who used old methods, including the use of medication, in the midst of a closed society that also helps to create a bad image.

With the spread of Syrians abroad and their refuge in neighboring countries, dozens of civil society organizations were established to provide them with the necessary services, including psychological treatment services, specifically for those who have been subjected to violence, witnessed war battles, or been arrested and tortured.

Nour sees the proliferation of these organizations as a major reason for changing the perception of Syrians abroad towards medicine and psychological treatment, turning it into a normal matter and considering it like any other organic disease.

Nour had previously volunteered to provide psychological support to Syrians in Turkey through specialized organizations.

The circumstances prompted al-Sahili not only to seek treatment but also to study psychiatry in addition to her work as a marketing consultant in Istanbul.

Signs of disorders that need psychological review in adults: 

– Unexplained physical complaints.

– Disturbances in basic instincts (sleep, poor appetite, and sexual problems for at least two weeks) and without obvious reasons.

– A constant change in mood, accompanied by a loss of desire to live and loss of enjoyment for a long time.

– Decreased performance of basic tasks of work or study for several weeks.

– Having any kind of addiction (shopping, drugs, watching pornography).

Source: Psychologist Mohamed al-Sayed

What does psychiatry say?

The process of social stigmatization of mental patients is not related to Syrian society alone, as it is present in other peoples and societies around the world.

The psychotherapist Mohamed al-Sayed told Enab Baladi that stigma, which is one of the basic components of dealing with psychiatry, can be found in different social segments in many societies, even those that are culturally different from the Syrian society.

Regarding the change in the Syrians’ perception of psychiatry and the treatment of its diseases, al-Sayed said that the number of patients differed significantly from 2011.

However, when looking at the percentage of numbers compared to inductive studies, there is a gap between the number of potential sufferers and the number of patients.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 5% of adults worldwide suffer from depression, which is a common mental disorder.

More than 700,000 people die by suicide each year, and suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among people between the ages of 15 and 29.

Al-Sayed explained that there is an economic aspect to the refusal of some Syrians to receive psychological treatment, in addition to the aforementioned social reasons, as it was considered a kind of luxury, and only those who have money are able to do so.

In addition to emigration and mixing with new societies, a new generation has grown up with a different view of many life issues in Syria, and going through complex psychological experiences also prompts a change in this view, according to al-Sayed.

How do you know that your child needs to see a psychologist?

– Introversion, isolation, and lack of participation in social activities.

– Speech and stuttering problems.

– Sudden change in behavior.

– Decrease in appetite.

– Problems sleeping and frequent nightmares.

– Noticing a significant difference with other children of the same social, cultural, and age conditions.

Source: Psychologist Mohamed al-Sayed



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