Syrian children turn to suicide, self-harm to escape horrors of war - report

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LONDON, March 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Children living in war-torn Syria, some as young as 12, are self-harming, taking drugs, and attempting suicide to escape the horrors they have endured after six years of conflict, an international aid group said on Monday.

One in four children, around 2.5 million, are on the brink of developing a mental health disorder, said Save the Children in the most comprehensive report of its kind to document the mental health of children in Syria.

Nearly five million Syrians have fled the country since the war began in 2011, but 13.5 million people remain in need of aid in Syria and almost half are children, according to the United Nations' humanitarian agency, UNOCHA.

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Visitors walk inside Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Men walk near damage inside Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A combination picture shows Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria, before it was damaged on October 6, 2010 (top) and after it was damaged (bottom) December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi (top)/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People walk inside Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria March 12, 2009. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Damage is seen inside Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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A general view shows damage in al-Sheebani school building, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A combination picture shows al-Sheebani school's building, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria before it was damaged on May 14, 2008 (top) and after it was damaged (bottom) December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A damaged chandelier lies on the ground at Hamam El Nahasin, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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A general view shows damage in al-Sheebani school's courtyard, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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A general view shows damage on the entrance to al-Zarab souk in the Old city of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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People walk inside Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria March 12, 2009. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Men walk near damage inside Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A combination picture shows Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria, before it was damaged on March 12, 2009 (top) and after it was damaged December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A general view shows the Old City of Aleppo, Syria November 24, 2008. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A general view shows damage in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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Nightmares, bedwetting, anger, suicidal thoughts and depression are a few of the symptoms plaguing Syrian children, who suffer from an endless barrage of trauma from bombings, death and destruction, it said.

Most of the children interviewed for the report were too fearful to play outside, have dropped out of school, or have witnessed the death of a friend or relative.

"About five to six months ago, a child who was 12 years old committed suicide. We never had something like this before, even for older people," Syrian mental health worker Sharif was quoted as saying in the report.

"His dad was killed in a car bomb. They tried to explain to the child that now your dad is a martyr and he is going to paradise, so the child thought that if he died he would see his dad. He hung himself with a scarf."

TOXIC STRESS

Psychologist Marcia Brophy, who spoke to 458 Syrian adults and children for the report, said living in a constant state of fear and anxiety, known as "toxic stress," could lead to serious long-term health issues.

"These children, their bodies are in constant 'fight or flight' - and that accumulative level of toxic stress will undoubtedly have huge long-term consequences ... and it could lead to lifelong medical issues as well," said Brophy.

More and more children were self-harming, taking drugs and attempting suicide, Brophy told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, and they were doing so at an increasingly younger age.

"It's incredibly troubling. But it's not really surprising given that these children are living in a highly stressful environment," Brophy said. "It's a way of coping and dealing with a really abnormal, stressful situation."

She said communities should talk more openly about mental health, and aid agencies must make mental health support a priority across all humanitarian situations.

"It's a taboo issue, it's very hard to talk about. Given that this is a protracted conflict situation ... we need to have mental health and psychosocial support integrated into any emergency response," Brophy said.

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People inspect a damaged building after strikes yesterday on the rebel held besieged city of Douma, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria November 22, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Children play near a damaged building in the rebel-held besieged city of Douma, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria November 13, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
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Boys play near rubble of damaged buildings in the rebel held besieged town of Douma, eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria March 19, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
A man stands next to a cow seen through a hole in the wall prior to Eid al-Adha celebrations in the rebel held Douma neighbourhood of Damascus, Syria September 11, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
A man reacts at a site hit by an airstrike in the rebel held Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Syria July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
Civil defence members rest amidst rubble in a site hit by what activists said were airstrikes carried out by the Russian air force in the town of Douma, eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria January 10, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
A solar panel is placed on rubble along a street in the Douma neighbourhood of Damascus, Syria February 9, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
A boy inspects a damaged house in the rebel-held besieged city of Douma, a suburb of Damascus, Syria February 27, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
A youth inspects a damaged kitchen after strikes yesterday on the rebel held besieged city of Douma, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria November 22, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
Residents inspect damage in a site hit by what activists said were airstrikes carried out by the Russian air force in the town of Douma, eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria January 10, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
A girl runs past a damaged site after an airstrike in the besieged rebel-held town of Douma, eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria November 2, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A girl inspects damage in a site hit by what activists said were airstrikes carried out by the Russian air force in the town of Douma, eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria January 10, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
A man salvages belongings at a site hit yesterday by airstrikes in the rebel held Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Syria November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
A man transports on a bicycle tree branches to be be placed on the graves of his relatives, on the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, in the rebel held Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Syria July 6, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
A picture is hung on a wall inside a damaged house in the rebel-controlled area of Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, Syria April 11, 2016. Picture taken April 11, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
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