© MSF/Hussein Amri
18 Oct 18 19 Oct 18

The less visible humanitarian crisis: Urban refugee mental health needs in Jordan

Heidi Mitton is a Mental Health Activity Manager who has worked with Médecins Sans Frontières for a year. She now works in MSF’s non-communicable disease (NCD) project in Irbid, Jordan

The project, opened in December 2014, supports Syrian refugees living outside of camps in Jordan. MSF opened this project to respond to the massive needs of Syrian refugees living in non-camp settings.

Jordan is host to around 671,900 registered refugees with many more who are without registration. Around 125,783 Syrians live in camps, while the rest reside in several cities and villages around Jordan.

Although displaced people living in a host community setting do not always receive the same media attention, they can often face difficulties accessing health care and other basic services and can face unique economic and social challenges as they try to integrate into a new society. Moreover, 30% of our patients are vulnerable Jordanians, who also suffer from similar conditions.

Our work in the mental health project has shed light on the huge needs these patients face in their daily lives.  

The mental health component of the Irbid NCD program started in 2016, and has since enrolled 630 patients, with 2548 individual consultations and 37 group sessions. The program was triggered by the acknowledgement that in order to improve patients’ physical health, people in highly stressful situations often need help managing the emotional and social effects of their conditions, necessitating a more holistic approach to healthcare. Adult populations affected by emergencies have a higher risk of suffering from common and severe mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Even in the years after arriving to safety, many of our patients continue to experience these symptoms.

Zuhair, a father of three and a Syrian refugee from Homs, told us; “my wife is waiting for me to finish my sessions to take my spot, as she realised that I changed a lot after enrolling in the mental health program.”  Zuheir continued, “I took almost 10-15 sessions, I feel much better and much happier.”

Patient symptoms can deteriorate if people continue to live in stressful living conditions. The mental health team works closely with patients to build new coping strategies for multiple stressors related to chronic conditions, financial difficulties, familial stress, and the effects of witnessing violence or gieving after losing loved ones.