Syria’s Hidden Suicide Crisis

Lauren Wolfe warns that self-harm is “rapidly becoming a very real fallout of this [Syrian] war — one that is so taboo, it is rarely spoken of within families, let alone publicly”:

“Suicide is strictly forbidden in Islam,” said Haid N. Haid, a Beirut-based Syrian sociologist and Middle East program manager at the Heinrich Boll Foundation. Scholars often forbid the recitation of a funerary prayer for people who’ve committed suicide, as a way to punish the families of the dead and to deter others from taking their own lives. The cause of death is usually obscured — it is called an “accident” or “natural.” Suicide, Haid emphasized, is always “a big scandal that people will talk about for a long time.”

Despite the taboo, doctors I spoke with said they are seeing more and more cases of people with suicidal impulses – a trend confirmed by the number of reported instances in which, because of a feeling of being unable to provide for one’s family as a refugee, or because of the shame of rapepregnancy through rape, or sexual humiliation, it has been carried out. Hard data are difficult to come by. But while I was unable to find formal statistics on suicide in the Syrian war, the picture painted by doctors working in and near the country is decidedly bleak — and given how precious few mental health services are available to Syrians affected by the war, it is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Meanwhile, a UNHCR report on female refugees from Syria illuminates the unimaginable daily struggles these women contend with:

With their husbands, fathers, and brothers dead, missing, or still in Syria — many of them denied entry to the neighboring countries — these women compose a particularly vulnerable segment of a population caught in a humanitarian catastrophe that the United Nations has described as the worst since the genocide in Rwanda. Tuesday’s report, which is based on interviews with 135 women between February and April, paints a desperate picture of their lives as refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt. …

According to UNHCR, 40 percent of refugees in Lebanon live in substandard dwellings, which include both unfinished buildings and makeshift settlements. And female-headed refugee families — which in Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt include on average 5.6 members — are particularly vulnerable to life in an inadequate shelter. When Suraya, a mother of seven, arrived at Jordan’s Zaatari camp, she stood guard outside her tent. “I would dress and act like a man so that my children could sleep in peace and feel safe,” she told the UNHCR. Another woman, Zaina, who also lives in Bekaa, said: “When there is no man, people are like animals.” Their children aren’t the only ones vulnerable to predators. The women must also defend themselves from sexual harassment and gender-based violence, often perpetrated by their landlords.