Mental Health Care Critically Important to Helping Refugees Heal | The Center for Victims of Torture

Mental Health Care Critically Important to Helping Refugees Heal

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Jenni Bowring-McDonough is media relations manager for CVT.

The headlines are horrifying. Haunting, heartbreaking images emerge every day: most wrenching among them the photo of three-year-old Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi, who drowned when the boat his family was traveling on capsized off the coast of Kos as they were escaping their home country. And story after story details the confrontations between refugees desperate for shelter and safety and the agents seemingly intent on preventing this.

The United Nations’ refugee agency has said we are in the midst of the worst refugee crisis in 25 years, and as of July of this year, more than four million Syrians have fled war and persecution. The Center for Victims of Torture has long been witness to the shattered lives of refugees as they are forced to run from unspeakable atrocities, and we have established healing centers to meet the overwhelming need for care in Jordan, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. In 2014, 58 percent of the clients to whom CVT extended rehabilitative care in our international programs reported surviving torture.

The psychological damage resulting from torture is profound. Living with constant fear, debilitating depression and regular panic attacks often prevents survivors from caring for themselves and their families. Symptoms like these can also prevent them from contributing to their communities.

Given what we have observed in the course of our work, we know that the treacherous journey to safety can cause past trauma to resurface in some torture survivors. And as the world is learning every day, too many refugees do not even survive the attempt at freedom, tearing families apart and making mental health care even more critical to the healing process—in some cases, the sooner, the better. When appropriate, emergency mental health care may be called for. In these cases, CVT has an intensive therapeutic approach that emphasizes not only helping people to cope with ongoing stressors, but also to process significant traumatic experiences that have been part of their recent and more distant past.

Fully recognizing that rehabilitation requires funding, CVT continues to call for donor countries seeking to support survivors of torture to contribute – or increase their contributions – to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, which provides grants to organizations that offer psychological, medical and social assistance, legal aid and financial support to survivors of torture. Perhaps now more than ever, our global community should prioritize mental health and psychosocial support services as an essential component of responding to the ongoing refugee crises.

Healing is possible. Survivors can and do rebuild their lives. Families begin new chapters bolstered by rehabilitation. When care is holistic, there is hope.


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