Mental Health & Protection in Syria


As the Syrian crisis enters its tenth year, the severity and complexity of humanitarian needs remains extensive, as a generation has come of age in a war zone, i.e. the lost generation of Syrians. Countless Syrians, whether those that remained inside Syria, or sought refuge in Turkey, Jordan, or Lebanon, are in need of mental health care after being exposed to the traumatic experiences they have faced for the past 10 years.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) notes that “the most prevalent and most significant clinical problems among Syrians are emotional disorders, such as: depression, prolonged grief disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder and various forms of anxiety disorders.”

The demand for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) services in the area will continue for a long period of time according to field assessments done by UN agencies (WHO – UNICEF- UNFPA - & UNHCR) as the consequences of the war will remain especially for the new generation. “No Lost Generation” UNICEF 2019 Annual Report.

MHPSS is a vital ongoing adaptation process that needs to be conducted with high standards of care according to WHO and Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC).

UOSSM’s Role in Mental Health in the Syrian Crisis

UOSSM’s Role in Mental Health in the Syrian Crisis

UOSSM has played an integral role in mental health, as a leader, expert, and innovator, in the Syrian crisis, and led the way by taking strategic mental health initiatives since 2013, to find constantly evolving solutions for the growing mental health issues arising among the Syrian people due to the armed conflict. UOSSM:

Child with special needs trained at the special education department of MHPSS in north Syria.

Due to the lack of Syrian psychiatrists in Syria, a tele-referral service, Syria Tele-Mental Health (STMH) network, established through the Collegium Telemedical site of Yale University, was led in early 2014 by an expatriate Syrian Psychiatrist in UK, Dr Redwan Elkhayat, who chaired the UOSSM MHPSS Committee, and Dr Wael Alraas, a Syrian Psychiatrist, who was UOSSM’s Director of the MHPSS Program at the time, to address the high demands and needs. This Tele-Psychiatry service continues to support the work of UOSSM’s only psychiatrist in Syria and provides the needed technical support. UOSSM strives to provide the highest quality health services, using intervention techniques designed for crisis settings.

The goal of the MHPSS and Protection programs is to improve the psychosocial well-being and resilience of the vulnerable people affected by the Syrian crisis, through the provision of:

Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Program in Syria

UOSSM launched the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) Program in early 2014 in north Syria, to reduce the negative effects of the conflict on the Syrian people.

Due to the lack of Syrian psychiatrists, (only one psychiatrist remains in northwest Syria at UOSSM’s MHPSS referral center), a tele-referral service was established, to address the high demands and needs. This Tele-Psychiatry service continuous to support the work of UOSSM’s psychiatrist in Syria and provides the technical support needed.

To build and improve MHPSS work strategies, UOSSM coordinates with a variety of partners in different sectors, led by different UN agencies, and plays an important role in these sectors. Because of UOSSM’s expertise with wartime mental health concerns, UOSSM participated in in the design of a specialized psychosocial support guide, in partnership with WHO, that is being deployed to all social workers in Syria. The guide includes many skills, techniques, and programs that are necessary in approaching mental support. In addition, UOSSM was elected to serve on the technical advisory committee for the mental health sector for Syria in Turkey and worked with the UN Refugee Agency initiative to establish communication between protection and mental health sectors.

UOSSM’s MHPSS services in Syria include

UOSSM’s MHPSS services in Syria include:

Training on World Mental Health Day by the only psychiatrist in northwest Syria at UOSSM Mental Health Center.

Training and capacity building in the MHPSS program include:

Some specialized training courses, designed under World Health Organization (WHO) include:

UOSSM Al Bab Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Center.

UOSSM currently operates the following centers in north Syria:

Protection Program in Syria

Protection Program In Syria

In 2017, UOSSM developed protection interventions focusing on Child Protection (CP) and preventing and responding to Gender-Based Violence (GBV). The program is aimed to enhance the protection of at-risk groups from the effects of conflict, including, but not limited to, protection activities that are specifically designed to prevent and respond to rights violations.

UOSSM builds local capacity in many areas, including psychological first aid, child protection case management, family tracing and reunification, parenting skills training, and protection monitoring. UOSSM participates in the protection sector working group in northern Syria and coordinates with staff to discuss challenges and develop solutions. UOSSM also participates in family reunification and child labor working groups, focusing on the development of intervention and response strategies.

UOSSM’s protection interventions are developed in accordance with standards and guidelines internationally recognized by UNICEF, UNFPA and UNHCR. Since 2017, UOSSM has provided protection services to tens of thousands of people, primarily women and children in north Syria.

UOSSM’S protection services fall into the following categories:

Community-Based Child Protection

UOSSM promotes Child Protection (CP) through:

Structured and sustainable psychosocial support programs within child-friendly centers.

Awareness campaigns on children's rights and protection concerns, plus establishing community-based child protection committees trained on child protection standards and referral mechanisms.

Awareness campaigns on land mines, ordinances, and explosive material risks.

Parenting Skills Programs. Although, the children are the target group for most services, there are specific guiding programs for the parents to ensure continuity of childcare, after children leave UOSSM facilities.

Social Protection Services

Community awareness and psychosocial support.

Publicizing available services to activate conversion mechanisms in targeted areas.

Women and Girls’ Empowerment

Women’s empowerment also falls under the umbrella of protection services. The program not only includes Gender-based Violence (GBV) prevention and response, but also includes the following skills development activities to empower the women and girls in their community:

Psychosocial support

Awareness of protection issues

Specialized services through case management

Skills development activities such as sewing and basic principles of reading and writing

UOSSM provides protection services in north Syria:

Protection services are provided at UOSSM’s MHPSS center and mobile units, and through UOSSM’s specialized Protection Centers:

Three child centers

Five community centers

One facility specifically for women and children