Strengths: Meeting refugee mental health needs

STRENGTHS is a new initiative that sees fifteen organisations - including War Child - come together to respond to the urgent psychological needs of Syrian refugees. The project aims to develop effective community-based mental health services for refugee populations in both Europe and the Middle East.
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“I was riding my bike when armed men rushed into my street,” Habib from Syria remembers.

Photo: War Child

Mental Healthcare Challenges

Syria has been beset by violence and instability for more than eight years - and some 5.6 million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes in search of safety in other countries across the Middle East and Europe.

Syrian refugees have been exposed to the effects of conflict-related violence both in their country of origin and during their journeys to safety. These effects frequently manifest themselves in common mental health disorders - which include symptoms of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The influx of Syrian refugees - with urgent psychological needs - seeking asylum in Europe and the Middle East presents a significant challenge to mental healthcare systems. Multiple barriers limit access to mental health services - particularly the shortage of trained specialists and Arabic-speaking mental healthcare professionals.

Syrië gevluchte kinderen War Child

Repeated displacement and exposure to violent conflict are known to have both immediate and long-term impacts on a child’s psychosocial wellbeing.

Photo: Alessio Romenzi

Coordinated Response

The STRENGTHS consortium has been formed to address these challenges and deliver an effective response to the critical psychological needs of Syrian refugees. STRENGTHS sees fifteen leading organisations - including academic institutions, NGOs and UN agencies - come together to develop and deliver mental healthcare programmes for refugee communities.

STRENGTHS aims to provide community-based healthcare implementation strategies which will allow for both the expansion and increased uptake of effective mental health interventions targeting refugees. The initiative will see interventions rolled out in refugee-host countries including in the Middle East region (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt) and Europe (Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden).

Psychological Interventions

Each intervention will feature easily replicable treatment models that can be incorporated into healthcare systems in countries with a large refugee population. These models will include scalable interventions developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) - with a particular focus on Problem Management Plus (PM+) programmes.

PM+ is an innovative psychological intervention which provides people with skills to improve their management of psychological distress. PM+ programmes are particularly suited for use in humanitarian or low-resource settings - as they can be delivered by non-professional helpers after a period of training.

These programmes are evidence-based and address common sets of symptoms of distress, rather than targeting one specific disorder. This ensures they are particularly useful for dealing with problems frequently experienced by refugees.

The STRENGTHS consortium partners will work together to evaluate PM+ programmes for refugee populations - with a particular focus on adapting programmes and training materials to local contexts and ensuring the cost-effective expansion of these programmes. The robust evidence generated will inform future PM+ interventions as well as wider humanitarian programming.

Lebanon Safe Space children waving

Our psychosocial support interventions are designed to enable children and young people to develop their resilience and innate strengths.

Photo: Amar Robert

War Child Can't Wait to Learn crafts

Participants in our life-skills interventions and structured recreational activities develop increased self-confidence and trust in others.

Photo: Hussein Baydoun

War Child’s Role

We will culturally adapt and evaluate the EASE: Early Adolescent Skills for Emotions programme for vulnerable adolescents living in Lebanon as part of the STRENGTHS initiative. The EASE programme is designed to improve the psychosocial wellbeing of children between ten and 14 years of age who are affected by adversity.

The programme will address issues including stress management and coping mechanisms and will supplement our existing work inside Lebanon. If the programme is shown to be effective, it will offered to other providers of child services. The evaluation forms part of STRENGTHS Work Package 4.