The challenges of mental health among the Syrian medical students

Vytenis Andriukaitis, Member of the European Commission in charge of Health and Food Safety (in the middle) and Vĕra Jourová, Member of the EC in charge of Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality (second from left) participated at the Summit for equal quality of products for all, in Bratislava. Date: 05/09/2017. Location: Bratislava. © European Union, 2017 / Photo: Gabriel Kuchta.

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Alexey Yousef. He is a 6th year M.D student in Tishreen University, Lattakia, Syria. IFMSA wise, he is the president and founder of the Syrian Medical Students Association SMSA-Tishreen local committee that officially represents his university in the IFMSA.

If relationship status, academic performance, smoking and alcohol are well-known risk factors that affect mental health, where should a war that torn a country apart, displaced 6.5 million individuals and resulted in more than 2 million casualties fit in?!

Suffering from terrorism, lack of fundamental resources, and travel sanctions; the Syrian medical students have been under a devastating pressure in the recent years that fundamentally affected their mental health.Before the war, mental health stigma has always been a problem in Syria that halted people from seeking psychiatric help even if they experience the most debilitating symptoms.

This stigma, in turn, created other problems. These included a general lack of mental health awareness, along with alack of medical students’ interest to seek a career in psychiatry, to mention but a few. Therefore, the recent war came and complicated an already challenging state.

It’s the war

The hardships of war, coupled with the mental health stigma, and the absence of adequate mental health support in the country created a tough situation for medical students who already suffer from high levels of study related stress and anxiety mainly due to the challenging nature of medical school. All these factors combined has led to a critical situation where the mental health of the future healthcare professionals came at stake.

Depression is a major mental health issue that plagues the medical students’ population worldwide. It happens that, recently, my research team conducted a study to assess depression among the Syrian medical students. According to our–unpublished yet–data, over half the students suffer from clinically significant depressive symptoms in our sample.

Health limiting factors

The vast majority of students reported that they were negatively affected by the crisis, and that there is a need for mental health support programs in the universities. However, strikingly, only a very small percentage sought psychological and mental support, which could be clearly attributable to the aforementioned mental health-limiting factors.

Since depression markedly reduces academic performance and productivity, an efficient and effective solution should emerge in response to this evolving mental health issue. Mental Health awareness and advocacy campaigns could arise as invaluable tools to address this problem. These could decrease mental health stigma and encourage students to seek psychiatric supports once they feel any depressive symptoms.

Moreover, TeleMedicine could also emerge as an extremely valuable implement. It could overcome the mental health stigma through allowing the medical students, and the population at large, to consult a psychiatrist from the comfort of their homes.

Life and death

It is very important to address the mental health issues in medical students and healthcare professionals because they are that thin line that stands between life and death. They should be mentally healthy to deliver the best healthcare to their patients, and to take an active part in rebuilding healthcare in Syria in the future. In the end, the common mental health disorders are effectively treatable if managed correctly. However, if these are neglected, they could build up to pose the greatest threat ever!

About the writer

Alexey Yousef is a 6th year M.D student in Tishreen University, Lattakia, Syria. IFMSA wise, he is the president and founder of the Syrian Medical Students Association SMSA-Tishreen local committee that officially represents his university in the IFMSA. Research wise, he is engaged in a number of research projects. Locally, he founded MED Research Team to support research in the local region and to join the efforts of local academic and researchers with their international peers. On a personal level, he is into bodybuilding, and nature sports, and just loves spending time with his two German Shepherds.

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