2017 World Health Day: Message by Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (“The Geneva Centre”)
7 April 2017 (GENEVA) – Today marks the 2017 World Health Day highlighting the importance of addressing the effects of depression on people’s health.
This year’s theme is a timely opportunity to shed light on an issue that has been neglected for decades despite that the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 300 million people suffer from this malaise.
It has in particular become a common challenge for victims of conflicts and terrorism in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and elsewhere in the world that have recently been targeted by violent and extremist groups.
The widespread violence and the imminent fear of terrorist attacks and fearmongering result in stress disorder that can in the long run turn into depression and mental illness.
While we witness the destruction of physical objects and infrastructure in the media, the psychological injuries and traumas inflicted on humans remain invisible damages haunting people and societies for years and decades.
According to a recent study initiated in 2015 by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), 79% of Syrian refugee children had experienced death, 45% displayed symptoms of PTSD and 44% reported symptoms of depression.
In Iraq, recent estimates by the Iraq Body Count (IBC) suggest that 16,361 civilians lost their lives in Iraq owing to terrorism, sectarian violence and other related factors resulting from the volatile situation in Iraq.
Only in 2016, Iraq witnessed 1,664 suicide attacks. That is equivalent to four attacks a day. Imagine living in daily fear of terrorism that could potentially strike you at any time.
The list of Arab countries in which post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression have become a major area of concern can also be extended to include countries such as Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Egypt that have recently experienced civilian upheavals and violent turmoil.
The polarized situation in the Middle East, that has created mass-migration, displacement and inter-community strives, needs to give way to ever-broader recognition of equal citizenship rights for all.
Owing to the recent terrorist attacks also in industrialised countries, these symptoms are also becoming of growing concern for civilian populations once considered as “out of reach”.
Following the 7 July 2005 London attacks, 31% of Londoners reported a significant elevation in the stress level.
Similar rises in stress levels related to incidents of terrorism were also reported in the case of the 11 September 2001 and the 11 March 2004 Madrid terrorist attacks.
These disturbing figures show that depression and PTSD are becoming modern epidemics that require the world’s attention.
Ignoring the psychological impacts of conflicts and violence will have long-term consequences for societies and generations to come.
It can foster violence and other harmful practices that can further destabilize societies.
Searching for the cure will require addressing the causes of disorder and restoring normality in people’s daily lives.
Affected victims need to have a greater sense of security and support from society in addressing their plights.
It is important to break the social taboos and stigmas associated with addressing mental-health problems.
People experiencing psychological distortions, such as the Syrian refugee children and the victims of terrorism, deserve our full and unconditional support to address their psychological plights.
Not only individuals need to be cured for their invisible ills, but also society itself is in need of urgent renewal.
The long-lasting anxiety caused by the political stalemate concerning the right of the Palestinians to nationhood also has the potential of destabilizing the region if left unaddressed.