North West Syria: High Number of Suicide Attempts and Deaths, with Children Accounting for One in Five Cases

The figures spark concerns for a mental health crisis, Save the Children said

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (April 28, 2021)—Almost one in five of all recorded suicide attempts and deaths in North West Syria are children,i with a total of 246 suicides and 1,748 attempts recorded in 2020, Save the Children has said.ii

The number of suicides in the area has been rising sharply over the past year, jumping by 86 percent from the first three months of 2020.iii

Of those who attempted suicide, at least 42 are 15 years old or younger, while 18 percent are adolescents and young people between the ages of 16 and 20.

These figures emerge among constantly deteriorating conditions for people in North West Syria including poverty, a lack of education and employment, domestic violence, child marriage, broken relationships and bullying, in communities that have been reeling from 10 years of conflict.

Last week, Save the Children’s partners confirmed that a 14-year-old boy took his own life in a displacement camp in Hama, the latest in a series of such cases recorded.

Majd,* a mental health worker with Save the Children’s partner organization Hurras Network in North Idlib, told Save the Children:

“Almost 15 percent of adult patients have suicidal thoughts. Children meanwhile express [their -emotional struggles] through behavior. They become aggressive, isolated or vengeful.”

He told Save the Children about a 15-year-old girl who had been married for a year, during which her marriage started deteriorating. He said:

“The day she died by suicide, her husband was giving her trouble and they had an argument, so he left the house then came back to find her dead.”

Maher,* 11 years old, has struggled with social anxiety. Having been through divorce and living through poverty, his mother attempted suicide, after which Maher* started developing suicidal thoughts as well. Save the Children’s partner Hurras Network is now providing both Maher* and his mother with mental health support, while also supporting the boy to go back to school.

Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria Response Director, said:

“This is a desperately alarming situation. After 10 years of conflict, we are now seeing children resorting to taking their own lives. It is incredibly sad that children are reaching a point where they see no other way out from a life where they cannot get an education, enough food or adequate shelter. This is a very serious problem that adds to the many challenges that Syria’s population has been living with for over 10 years.”

The worsening economic situation in the North West has taken its toll on people struggling to secure their basic needs including food and medication, Save the Children said. This has contributed to increased stress levels among communities.

The harsh living conditions in overcrowded camps in the North West and lack of infrastructure are all factors in people feeling more distressed.

The majority of deaths by suicide recorded, 187, were among people who have been displaced from their homes.

Save the Children calls on donors and the international community to increase their investment in mental health programming as well as increased tailored support for survivors of suicide and victims of domestic violence. It is vital to prevent and respond to possible causes for mental health problems by meeting basic humanitarian needs, as well as providing community support, case management services and referrals, the organization emphasized.

*Names changed for privacy reasons

This press release has been corrected. A previous version stated that there had been 1,748 suicides in the last three months of 2020. It has been updated to reflect that this number covers the whole of 2020.

[i] This is an estimate based on data showing that 23.79% of suicide deaths and attempts are of people aged 20 or less
[ii] Health cluster data obtained by Save the Children
[iii] Number of suicide cases recorded at the end of Q1 in 2020 was 132 as per https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/nw_syria_sitrep19_21aug2020.pdf

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