Reaching the Final straw
Shedding light on alarming suicide trends and perceptions impacting women, girls, and young people stuck in limbo in Northwest Syria
Almost 12 years since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, 4.6 million people – 80% of whom are women and children – remain trapped in the Northwest of Syria, where the majority of the population are now food insecure. Increasingly vulnerable families and communities are struggling to meet their basic needs as prices of daily food items continue to soar following the conflict in Ukraine.Residents of Northwest Syria are also heavily reliant on cross-border humanitarian aid entering through Türkiye, a process which is protected under the soon-to-expire United Nations Security Council (UNSC)’s Resolution 2642.
The majority of children and families in Northwest Syria have been displaced from their homes during the conflict. The 9,000 square kilometre area houses more than 2.87 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), 63% of whom still reside in overcrowded camps. The more than 1.7 million girls and boys in Northwest Syria are particularly prone to health outbreaks – much like the ongoing cholera outbreak – due to the absence of long-term shelter, water and sanitation solutions. Displaced women and girls are also exposed to high rates of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), with single, divorced and widowed women particularly vulnerable to stigma, exploitation and abuse. As funding for the Syria crisis response continues to dwindle, despite humanitarian needs on the ground being greater than ever before, residents of the Northwest are finding themselves increasingly isolated in their struggle to make ends meet.
Because of continuous instability, recurring displacements, poor living conditions and ongoing economic struggles, residents of Northwest Syria are not only suffering at the socio-economic levels, their mental health is also rapidly deteriorating. Although detailed research has already been conducted on mental health needs and gaps in Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) service provision, much remains unknown on suicide and attempted suicide trends impacting this already vulnerable community. Suicides and attempted suicides are rarely reported due to the social stigma, but the Northwest Syria MHPSS Technical Working Group operating under the WHO-led Health Cluster was able to share data received from humanitarian organizations working on mental health in Northwest Syria for the purpose of this study.
The records show that reported suicide cases more than tripled from eight to 26 between the first and second quarters of 2022, with a total of 83 cases recorded between early 2021 and mid-2022, although real numbers are believed to be much higher. The number of recorded suicide attempts more than doubled between the last six months of 2021 and the first six months of 2022, rising from 106 to 213, with women representing almost half (49%) of reported cases, followed by men (34%), girls (12%) and boys (5%).15 Worryingly, girls under 18 made up the largest group (40%) of total recorded deaths by suicide between early 2021 and mid-2022.
According to available figures, young people under 18 are also increasingly affected by suicidal ideation as they represented close to one third (31%) of beneficiaries who expressed suicidal thoughts in Northwest Syria between early 2021 and mid-2022. They also made up 30% of those who contacted the 24/7 suicide prevention helpline in Northwest Syria.
For this reason, World Vision and its partners decided to look into suicide, suicide attempts and suicidal ideation more closely in Northwest Syria, with the aim of better understanding the mental health impact of the protracted crisis and worsening socio-economic context in this particularly isolated area where women, girls, men and boys have been stuck in limbo for more than a decade.
IMPORTANT: the below report contains sensitive findings on suicide and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) that some readers might find triggering. Please contact your nearest mental health helpline if you need support.