Sharp rise in self-harm, at­tempted sui­cide among refugees in Greece

Kathimerini English - - Focus -

A men­tal health emer­gency is un­fold­ing in mi­grant camps on Greece’s is­lands, fu­eled by poor liv­ing con­di­tions, ne­glect and vi­o­lence, Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders (MSF) said yes­ter­day.

Med­i­cal staff have seen a sharp in­crease in peo­ple try­ing to get help after at­tempt­ing sui­cide, harm­ing them­selves or suf­fer­ing psy­chotic episodes, the hu­man­i­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tion said in a re­port.

More than 13,000 mi­grants and refugees, mostly Syr­i­ans and Iraqis flee­ing years of war, are liv­ing in five camps on Greek is­lands close to Tur­key, gov­ern­ment fig­ures show.

Four of those camps are hold­ing two to three times as many peo­ple as they were de­signed for.

“Ev­ery day our teams treat pa­tients who tell us that they would pre­fer to have died in their coun­try than be trapped here,” said Jayne Grimes, man­ager of MSF’s men­tal health ac­tiv­i­ties on Samos.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion said six or seven new pa­tients had vis­ited its clinic on the nearby is­land of Lesvos each week over the sum­mer fol­low­ing sui­cide at­tempts, self­harm or psy­chotic episodes, 50 per­cent more than the pre­vi­ous three months.

Vi­o­lence which many ex­pe­ri­enced on the jour­ney or in Greece was one fac­tor ag­gra­vat­ing men­tal dis­tress, MSF said.

“I know I need to find hope, but when the night falls and I see where I am, I feel like I’m go­ing crazy,” it quoted a Syr­ian man as say­ing.

The 25-year-old said he was haunted by the images of peo­ple dy­ing of hunger in front of him in the long-be­sieged town of Ma­daya. “I still re­mem­ber the taste of the leaves and the smell of death,” he said.

On Samos, more than 3,000 peo­ple are crammed into fa­cil­i­ties de­signed to hold 700, and about 400 live in the woods. In one Lesvos camp, about 1,500 peo­ple are in makeshift shel­ters or tents with­out floor­ing or heat­ing, the UN refugee agency says.

In Au­gust, MSF found nearly three­quar­ters of new men­tal health pa­tients on Lesvos needed to be re­ferred to a psy­chi­a­trist, up from just over a third in the nine months from Oc­to­ber 2016 to June 2017.

The re­port quoted a 41-year-old man, who said he had been tor­tured in a Syr­ian prison. When he vis­ited a Lesvos hospi­tal, he said he was told he would have to wait eight months to see a psy­chi­a­trist. “When I heard that, I felt like dy­ing,” he said.

A 29-year-old Syr­ian woman, on Lesvos with her fam­ily, told the MSF re­searchers the un­cer­tainty over the fu­ture was “crush­ing us. It is killing us inside.”

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