Far From Home: The Syrian Trojan Women Project

Far From Home: The Syrian Trojan Women Project

  by Amina Foda What began as a response to the mental health needs of Syrian refugees in Amman, Jordan has grown into a captivating platform for the world to hear the voices of Syrian refugees. The Syria: The Trojan Women project produced a theatrical adaptation of Euripides’ The Trojan Women on the grounds of the everlasting themes and consequences of war that continue today in the Syrian crisis. The play, performed by a group of Syrian refugee women, embodies the women’s journey with mental anxiety, depression and PTSD. It provides a sobering view into their lived experiences and raises awareness of their challenges. In the words of one of the Syrian refugee actresses, the sentiments of loss and the pain of displacement found in Euripides’ play, The Trojan Women, resonated with their experiences of the modern day Syrian crisis. “War is eternal, just the weapons have changed” — UK based producer, Charlotte Eagar, introduced the Project to an auditorium of Columbia University students in New York City (an evening organized by the Columbia Global Mental Health Program and co-hosted by Columbia College). The New York audience was connected to a group of Syrian refugee women in Amman, Jordan who shared their experiences and hopes to a growing Western audience. Originally scheduled to travel to the United States to perform their adaptation of Euripides’ classic anti-war tragedy, visa denials prevented their physical presence in NYC. As a saving grace, technology bridged the political roadblocks to sharing their story. The women were thoughtful and purposeful in their discussion with the audience. They shared their lived-experiences of building their new community...

Social barriers to mental health services in Arab populations

  by Aseel Hamid Accounting for 13% of the total global burden of disease,1 untreated mental health disorders are one of the leading causes of disability, causing lasting disruptions in mood, thinking and daily functioning. It has been predicted that by 2030, depression will be a leading cause of the global burden of disease.2 As outlined in “Access to Mental Health Care in the Middle East”, mental health is not a strong priority in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and services are not widespread despite efforts made. The lack of prioritization around mental health means that the available resources are rarely translated into policy or planning for action at a population level by governments. The purpose of this entry is to determine which factors lead to underutilization of the few existing mental health services. After all, if governments invest in services and the respective public does not utilize them then it will inevitably lead to further deprioritization: a perpetual cycle.   Where does this cycle begin? It is highly unlikely that underutilization results from a lack of need. Prevalence rates of mental illness in MENA are similar to the prevalence rates worldwide.3 Furthermore, the MENA region has been greatly affected by conflicts, some of which are ongoing such as in Syria, Palestine and Iraq. A recent study found that countries in MENA affected by conflict tend to report a much higher rate of depression,4 and another study carried out in areas affected by conflicts show rates of 17% for post-traumatic stress disorder; 5 this is almost five times the prevalence rate of PTSD found in the...
Mind the Gap: Arab adolescents in mental health research

Mind the Gap: Arab adolescents in mental health research

  Amina Foda, Adolescent and Mental Health Contributor In this blog, Amina Foda reviews evidence on the relationship between discrimination and mental health among minority adolescents in the United States and questions the absence of Arab adolescents in mental health research. Research and academia can sometimes seem like a black hole of talking heads. It’s a long process to study a population of people and identify causes of disease and develop effective interventions, for example. It also takes a careful blend of corroborated results and social capital to translate research to practice. However, in an age of evidence-based interventions and data driven initiatives, work that uses empirical evidence is critical to developing health services and interventions for vulnerable populations across the globe.  Disparities in health exist along countless demographics, and in order to close this gap, evidence and research is essential. For the Arab population, there is a significant gap in health research. Whether they are Arab immigrants or Arabs living in the Middle East, the level of attention given to this population is scarce. In order to create a healthy society for Arabs, we must begin by collecting and analyzing reliable data and asking thoughtful questions. In my current studies of public health I began my quest towards understanding the Arab American experience and its impact on the health of a seemingly uncategorized minority in the United States (according to the US Census, persons of Middle Eastern descent are categorized as White). To begin, with several classmates, we sought to assess the existing knowledge regarding the mental health of Arab-immigrant adolescents. There is extensive research and documented evidence of the psychological...
Drug Abuse in the Gulf

Drug Abuse in the Gulf

  On the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking 2014, Sara Al Lamki looks at the challenges and progress made on drug abuse in the Gulf. Is awareness enough? In the last 4 years there has been a growing storm of media attention on the rising drug problem in the Arab region, and especially the Gulf States. Newspapers, television talk shows, blogs and social media have been consistently discussing and reporting figures, speculation and interviews. However, the lack of data and studies means this coverage only skims the surface; they acknowledge the existence of a drug problem, but cannot address the extent of it, or the ways to tackle it. Indeed, the lack of data makes the extent of the problem difficult to understand, and as a consequence, the mindset that has been adopted in confronting the issue is is not necessarily effective. There seems to be a discourse, both implied and openly stated, that focuses blame on external causes – “importing” the drug problem, “guard[ing] against entry” of western drugs, international drug mafias – thus diluting the crux of the issue. There is no doubt that public awareness is an integral part of tackling the region’s drug addiction, especially for addressing stigma and social discrimination of addicts or users, however without research and evidence-based prevention programmes, there cannot be an understanding of the root causes and solutions. What do we know? Oil wealth and migrant workers may contribute to the ease of access and availability of narcotics in the region, but these are not the only contributors. Rapid population growth, a large youth segment, and population diversity are...
The smartest boy in the camp

The smartest boy in the camp

  By Laila Soudi In unrestrained, impetuous episodes, Dabbos, 22, leaves his makeshift home of Al-Husn Refugee Camp in Jordan to destroy everything in sight. He does this during his one hour of freedom every day, before and after which he is not allowed to set foot outside. At home, a steel chain tenaciously holds him to the ground and restricts his mobility. In first grade, Dabbos had a specific task every night: before he and his siblings went to bed, he would read aloud to his family from one of the Arabic books stacked at home. At the age of five and a half, Dabbos not only read in Arabic but was also beginning to read in English. As far as his mother was concerned, this made him the smartest little boy in the camp. A few months before Dabbos turned 6, he fell and hit his head while playing soccer with his neighbors. His mother remembers only rushing to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) clinic amid tears and prayers. An hour later, Dabbos was diagnosed with epilepsy. His mother, in turn, was given instructions pertaining to her son’s newly prescribed medications: more than 2,600 mg of various antipsychotic and anticonvulsant medications daily. That night, Dabbos futilely attempted to fulfill his task of reading. He was not able to do so successfully, as he now suffered from a total reduction of spoken and written language. Dabbos has not read a word since the day of the incident. And so prayer supplanted storytelling in their house. Convinced that Dabbos’ condition suggested a demonic etiology, the family...
الصحة النفسية في الشرق الأوسط وشمال أفريقيا

الصحة النفسية في الشرق الأوسط وشمال أفريقيا

في هذه التدوينة تناقش شمايلة عثماني العوز في بيانات وبحوث الصحة النفسية في منطقة الشرق الأوسط وشمال أفريقيا، وتبحث في مستقبل التخطيط للصحة النفسية ووضع السياسات لها.(ترجمته للعربية زينة المحايري) تصيب الاضطرابات النفسية أكثر من 10% من السكان حول العالم، 1 على الرغم من ذلك فإن معظم المعانين من هذه الاضطرابات لا يتلقون العلاج بقدر ما هم بحاجةٍ إليه. ويعود ذلك إلى نقص التمويل، إضافةً إلى خوف المصابين من الوصم، وهو أمر شائعٌ في هذا النوع من الاضطرابات. وعلى الرغم من وجود حملاتٍ استخدمت طرقاً خلّاقةً لتجعل الناس تتحدث عن صراعاتهم ببيئة آمنة، مثل Time to Changeو Big White Wall، فإن حملات كهذه لا تزال محدودة. عادةً ما تكون الحملات والنماذج الطبية المستخدمة لتقييم وعلاج المرضى مطورةً ومصممةً أصلاً في البلاد الغربية، وهي غالباً يتم تكرارها في البلدان ذات الدخل المنخفض والمتوسط دون تغييرات موضوعية تم تقييمها بحثياً. ومن الضروري هنا أن نؤكد أن الصحة النفسية باتت قضيةً عالميةً، فهي تحتل حالياً المرتبة الخامسة في مسببات الأمراض غير السارية. وتسبب مشاكل الصحة النفسية إعاقاتٍ وتكاليف باهظة تقدر بحوالي 2.5 تريلليون دولار (2010).2 أظهرت الأبحاث حديثاً أن الجهازين العصبي والمناعي مرتبطين ببعضهما بطريقةٍ لم تكن أبعادها مدركةً من قبل. إذ وجد الباحثون في هذا المجال، الذي يطلق عليه علم المناعة العصبي النفسي، صلةً مباشرة بين الشدة النفسية والمرض العضوي. حيث تسبب الشدّة النفسية أهبةً كبيرةً لنقص المناعة. وهذا وحده كافٍ لجعل الصحة النفسية أولوية من أجل صحةٍ أفضل. وليست منطقة الشرق الأوسط وشمال أفريقيا  بمعزل عن هذه المشاكل أو محصنةً ضدها. يشير الدكتور زياد قرنفل، الطبيب النفسي المشهور من معهد Weill Cornell Medical College قطر، إلى أن إحصائيات الأمراض النفسية لا تتفاوت كثيراً بين دولة وأخرى ولا سيما بمقارنتها بالحالة الاقتصادية...
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