Mental Health

Syrian Refugee Health Profile

A recent study, which included more than 6,000 refugee adults and children in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, found 54% suffered from a “severe emotional disorder,” including depression and anxiety 62.

Table 4 shows the WHO projections of the prevalence of mental health disorders in adults affected by emergencies 63.

Table 4: Projected Prevalence of Mental Disorders in Adult Populations Affected by Emergencies a 34, 63

Before emergency (12-month prevalence)b After emergency (12-month prevalence)
Severe disorder (psychosis, severe depression, severely disabling anxiety, etc.) 2-3% 3-4% c
Mild or moderate disorder (mild/moderate depression and anxiety, etc.) 10% 15-20% d
Normal distress/other psychological reactions (no disorder) No estimate Large percentage
a Actual observed rates may vary depending on setting and assessment method. b Assumed baseline rates are median rates across countries as observed in World Mental Health Survey, 2000. c Estimation based on the assumption that traumatic events and loss may contribute to a relapse (of a previously stable condition) and may cause severe, disabling forms of mood and anxiety disorders. d Traumatic events and loss are known to increase the risk of depression and anxiety disorders, including PTSD.

Source: World Health Organization, 2012

Given the complexity of the situation in Syria and the extreme violence and uncertainty that many Syrian refugees have experienced first-hand, the prevalence of mild-to-moderate or severe disorders may be higher than previous projections. Although mental health professionals should be careful not to over-diagnose clinical mental disorders among displaced Syrians 34, a high index of suspicion for mental health conditions should be maintained.

Pediatric Mental Health

In a study conducted in Turkey’s Islahiye Camp, researchers found that Syrian refugee children had experienced very high levels of trauma. Of the children surveyed, 44% reported symptoms of depression, and 45% showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 10 times the prevalence among children worldwide 64. U.S. communities that are preparing to receive Syrian refugees should establish connections with pediatric mental health providers and other community resources for children who have suffered traumatic events.


  1. Hassan, G., et al., Culture, Context, and the Mental Health and Psychosocial Wellbeing of Syrians: A Review of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support staff working with Syrians Affected by Armed Conflict. 2015, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Geneva.
  2. International Medical Corps, Syria Crisis: Addressing Regional Mental Health Needs and Gaps in the Context of the Syria Crisis. 2015.
  3. World Health Organization and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Assessing mental health and psychsocial needs and resources: a toolkit for major humanitarian settings. 2012, World Health Organization: Geneva.
  4. Sirin, S.R. and L. Rogers-Sirin, The education and mental health needs of Syrian refugee children. 2015, Migration Policy Institute.
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