Syrian refugees’ mental health is top priority

In this Oct. 20 image, a distraught Syrian refugee disembarks from a flooded raft at a Greek beach.(CMAJ/REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)

My new piece in CMAJ.

Doctors in a handful of clinics across Canada are preparing for the arrival of many thousands of refugees fleeing the war in Syria. So far only a few have arrived, but more are expected as part of the new government’s commitment to settle 25 000 Syrian refugees through 2016.

“The most significant part of our practice is dealing with mental health issues,” says Dr. Meb Rashid, who works at the Crossroads Clinic, a refugee clinic in Toronto, and is currently working with Lifeline Syria to establish clinics for the expected influx of Syrian refugees in Toronto.

The impact of the war on Syrians’ mental health is impossible to ignore. The Syrians he has met in Canada all have family back home, says Rashid, who co-founded Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, They get anxious and anguished when they are not able to get in touch with their family members. When they are finally able to reach them, they often hear gunfire and shelling in the background. Continue reading “Syrian refugees’ mental health is top priority”

Ukraine struggles with rise in PTSD

A piece I wrote for the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) on the rise in PTSD in Ukraine, and what’s being done to try and stop it.

Marc Lapointe, a Canadian Forces veteran working with Hero’s Companion in Ukraine, assesses a candidate therapy dog near Kyiv. Photo courtesy of Hero's Companion
Marc Lapointe, a Canadian Forces veteran working with Hero’s Companion in Ukraine,
assesses a candidate therapy dog near Kyiv.
(Photo courtesy of Hero’s Companion)

On the Maidan in Kyiv, the site of protests that ended in bloodshed in February 2014, almost every ledge and concrete step is covered with hasty memorials to the fallen. Fresh flowers and red glass candles surround framed pictures of dead soldiers. Next to them, rows of placards depicting photos from the war zone, from tanks on the move to soldiers playing soccer in shelled gymnasiums. In between the placards and pedestrians, volunteers from various organizations walk back and forth with little pails hanging from their necks, asking for donations to help wounded soldiers and their families.

These volunteers know, as does everyone in Ukraine, that there are legions of traumatized soldiers returning from the east. Since the war with Russia started in April 2014, some 70 000 Ukrainian soldiers have fought and approximately 2500 have died. Soldiers have seen friends killed in front of them with high-powered Russian artillery. Some have lost limbs; others have seen entire towns turned to rubble.

…read more in the CMAJ: http://www.cmaj.ca/content/early/2015/10/19/cmaj.109-5160.full.pdf+html?sid=b072a15e-5130-4b5a-83bf-56d8cccc23a8