Psychological Effects of the Syrian Conflict on Children

Large numbers of children living through the Syrian conflict have been exposed to many traumatic events such as extreme levels of violence, fighting and bombing, being victim to, witness to or hearing about injury and death of somebody they care about.

The Pain of a Parent’s Death

A young girl is oblivious to the screams and cheers of the children playing happily around her in a refugee school, as only hours before this photograph was taken she was told that her father had been killed in Syria. The realities of war are always close to these children no matter how far they move with their families.

Assessing the Mental Health of Children

During the second visit to the Syrian-Turkish border, parents and caregivers of children aged 4 to 10 years attending schools run by Generation Freedom, in Qah Refugee Camp and Bab al-Salam Refugee Camp in Syria and in Reyhanli, Turkey, were approached about taking part in our study. We aimed to investigate how feasible it was to use existing and brief child mental health questionnaires to assess the psychological wellbeing of children displaced by the war in the context of the Syrian conflict.

The Pediatric Emotional Distress Scale that we administered to parents to complete about their children revealed high levels of psychological distress in the 106 children assessed.

  • 49% of children were experiencing clinical levels of anxiety and withdrawal.
  • 62% were experiencing abnormally high levels of fear.
  • 34% were experiencing clinical levels of behavioural difficulties such as acting more aggressively.

The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire showed that almost half (45%) of the children were experiencing atypical levels of emotional difficulties and 40% had clinical levels of behavioural difficulties such as fighting with other children and not being obedient.

In another study conducted with 185 girls and 103 boys aged 9-18 years in the Islayihe Refugee Camp in Gaziantep, Turkey, other researchers (Ozer et al., 2013) found that 45% were experiencing high levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms that interfered with their day-to-day functioning, 60% depression, 22% aggression and 65% psychosomatic symptoms (e.g. stomach ache related to psychological distress).