TACOMA, Washington — As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, many people have experienced anxiety and discomfort navigating the effects of the virus. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveyed 5,412 U.S. citizens to gauge how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected mental health. From the results, it was seen that 40% of those surveyed had experienced a mental or behavioral condition due to COVID-19, with 25% reporting symptoms of anxiety and 24% reporting symptoms of depression. These COVID-19-related mental health challenges are not unique to the United States. Many people around the world are mentally affected, including refugees. The situation for refugees poses a unique challenge due to the lack of mental health care in refugee camps.
Mental Health for Refugees
Although there are no exact numbers on the percentage of refugees experiencing mental health challenges due to their circumstances, there has been a reported surge of mental health issues in many middle eastern countries as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In countries such as Lebanon and Israel, there have been increased cases of attempted suicide and self-harm. In many other surrounding countries, there have been reported increases in stress and anxiety as well as overall psychological trauma.
Mental Health Care in Refugee Camps During COVID-19
In response to these mental health risks, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) partner on mental health and psychological support (MHPSS), has been on the ground offering support and mental health care in refugee camps during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with increased health and infection risks in refugee camps, it has been difficult for the MHPSS to provide necessary mental health care.
In Iraq, many camps went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which made it nearly impossible for MHPSS psychiatrists and counselors to provide support and care. Luckily, community workers within the camps have been able to hold mental health meetings with neighbors and provide psychological care for those in need.
Trained Community Workers in Refugee Camps
Community workers living in the refugee camps have a unique perspective and added insight into the mental health situation surrounding them.
Kawa, a refugee and community worker living in the Domiz 1 camp near Duhok, Iraq, states, “Living in the camp, I can see how the situation is. Stress, worry and fear are widespread. I won’t be exaggerating if I say that everybody is afraid.” The fear and stress that many are experiencing come from the financial stress and loss resulting from strict curfews and rules within the camps.
In refugee camps in Bangladesh, there are approximately 1,400 trained Rohingya refugees who work as volunteers going door-to-door providing health information and support to over 860,000 Rohingya refugees. Each of these volunteers is tasked to visit some 100 homes offering COVID-19 prevention advice and support. Many of the refugees that they visit are scared because they do not know much about the virus, its symptoms and health effects. Not only does the advice and guidance from community workers offer peace of mind, but it has helped keep COVID-19 cases fairly low, as people know how to protect themselves and others.
The Prioritization of Mental Health Care for Refugees
The importance of the role that the community workers play within the camps must be emphasized. It is inspiring to see that through the combined efforts of the UNHCR and community workers, provision is made for mental health care in refugee camps during COVID-19.
– Kalicia Bateman