Mental Health - Not Just a Problem Reserved for Developed Countries

Eliza Wynne, The Unmentionables Development, Marketing and Communications Intern

Mental health is a topic often brushed over and hushed within societal discussions; it’s so highly stigmatized that even in developed countries such as Canada, it is a topic that’s next to impossible to get a proper, educated conversation going. Like many things, including hygiene and dignity, mental health is often washed away within refugee camps. The lack of adequate treatment and resources for mental health is a nightmarish reality that further adds to the feelings of hopelessness and despair.

It’s surprising how little research has been done on this topic. For my research for this post, I was staggered to find that the UNHCR has only published two readily available papers on the mental health of refugees. Within the paper, Culture, Context and the Mental Health and Psychosocial Wellbeing of Syrians (UNHCR, 2015), the most prevalent type of mental illness amongst Syrian refugees, particularly within camps, is that of emotional disorder including: depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The IMC (International Medic Corps) treats over 6000 refugee patients in their centres; with 10% of those patients being suicidal and clinically psychotic.

The majority of this emotional distress and disorder stems from the material, emotional, and physical despair, either about family still in Syria or family they may have lost, forced displacement, and the lack of dignity for refugees within the camps. Exposure to significant violence and traumatizing, life-threatening migration routes further amplify this despair. At The Unmentionables, we strive to reignite this dignity within refugees by providing proper hygiene supplies for both men and women to restore an, albeit relatively small, level of normality within their lives.

Refugees also find various coping mechanisms to restore normality; most commonly through prayer, discussing of better times, and socializing with friends and family. However, the UNHCR has noted that the longer refugees are in the camps, these more positive coping mechanisms over time transform into passive and isolating coping mechanisms such as smoking, drinking, and seeking time alone. These habits then manifest into more significant emotional disorders such as major depression (UNHCR). Coupled with a lack of uncertainty regarding their future, both refugee adults and children suicide attempts have increased the longer refugees are within the camps (Save the Children).

Despite this information, the exact statistics are hard to gather. With the mass influx of new refugees into camps, the MHCC (Mental Health Commission of Canada) states that mental illness in refugee populations can be anywhere from 10% to 40%.

Although it may appear that sanitation and mental health are widely different issues, the two are more linked than you can imagine. By restoring dignity to the lives’ of refugees through supporting our work at The Unmentionables, you can give refugees a sense of stability and normality, and in turn, progress the conversation regarding mental health.