Besides the insane destruction and endless violence, the war in Syria has inflicted widespread psychological damage on Syrians, leaving scars in the form of ‘toxic stress’ and post-war trauma that have led to a full-scale national mental health crisis.
Syrian children casually talk about bombs and bullets. Five-year-old Lima told Eyes On Events that she doesn’t feel afraid “because I got used to it.”
After over six years of war, many of the children here were born in the midst of the intensive fighting and have never known a different life, Syrians say.
“They have become immune to the war. They hear the sound of aircraft and they will tell you it’s an aircraft; they hear the sound of a missile, they will tell you it’s a missile,” a local woman named Iman told Eyes On Events.
“They are getting used to it. It isn’t like at the beginning when they were very afraid – now they are not,” a local father, Rafik Abudan, said.
Older children do feel things are not right, however, as they remember the times before the fighting broke out, like 12-year-old Aya, who said she “feels afraid living here.”
She is scared that “the clashes are near” or that “something will happen” to her.
One issue that makes it difficult to treat the mental conditions of Syrians is that their trauma will not end as long as the war continues.
Last month, a Save the Children report warned of epidemic levels of toxic stress syndrome, which arises when children are exposed to violence for a long time.
Parents and local adults say that the signs of it can be seen everywhere.
“They are becoming increasingly hostile and aggressive and are feeling more and more afraid,” another local father, Mamdouha, told Eyes On Events.
“Now they like to play with guns. They don’t like just any toy – they choose war games to play. There is no more childhood for kids these days,” a local woman, Iman, said.
Syrian children confirm the worst fears of the adults, saying they can’t imagine their future untouched by war.
“I want to be an army officer or a lawyer… No I want to be an army officer,” 8-year-old Danny said, while 10-year-old Juda wants to work “in air engineering” to “see my whole country,” which she now sees only “in books and kids’ stories.”
“There is no future if the situation doesn’t improve,” 12-year-old Aya insisted.
It seems rebuilding Syria may be easier than healing its people.