In the besieged town of Madaya in conflict-torn Syria, over a dozen young people have reportedly attempted suicide in the last two months, coming after scores of starvation-related deaths.
In a recent statement, the NGO Save the Children said medical staff in the region have reported that at least six teenagers and seven young adults attempted to kill themselves. They also say mental illness among children and young adults is on the rise.
For the past four years, Syria has been ridden with armed conflict, which began with the uprising against its president. With several armed groups ranging from government forces to IS fighting in shifting alliances, the civil war has claimed over 2,50,000 lives and forced an estimated 11 million people to flee their homes.
According to doctors, hundreds of people are suffering from psychological problems and mental illness including severe depression and paranoia, often brought on or exacerbated by the conditions they are living in, the NGO said.
Basic medical treatment is unavailable in the region, mental health care is a far cry.
Madaya, which has been besieged by the Syrian government since July 2015, shot to news earlier this year after it was reported that scores of people had died in the region, including 65 people from starvation and malnutrition alone.
While food and air corridors were then opened to supply aid, the siege has once again tightened in the past months and no humanitarian relief has been allowed in since April, Save the Children said.
Rula (name changed), a teacher in Madaya, says the siege has adversely affected children. "The children are psychologically crushed and tired. When we do activities like singing with them, they don’t react at all, they don’t laugh like they would normally. They draw images of children being butchered in the war, or tanks, or the siege and lack of food."
Many children have been separated from their parents in the siege and Rula too has experienced the same. Two of her children, a daughter (12) and a son (15) managed to reach Lebanon with an aunt a day before the siege took place. They have been separated for over a year now.
"Most children are suffering from malnutrition and have trouble digesting food. They have infections in their digestive systems and diseases like meningitis. Now the hunger and siege is returning to how it was last winter, when children and even adults were dying from starvation. We don’t need sympathy, we need help in this crisis," she added.
The NGO said that the worsening situation in Madaya is not a one off case and that the condition is similar in other besieged areas in the country. It fears that the extreme shortage of necessities like food, water and medicines, along with constant attacks on civilian areas, "are being used to push entire communities from their homes to allow parties to the conflict to secure territory".
Sonia Khush, Syria Director for Save the Children, said that the long siege in these towns is taking a toll on the mental as well as physical health of its people.
"The pressure of living under these conditions for years on end without respite is too much to bear, especially for children. There are more than 250,000 children living under siege in Syria and while they are resilient, we see the signs of trauma and distress every day," she said.