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TED2018

Essam Daod: How we can bring mental health support to refugees

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The global refugee crisis is a mental health catastrophe, leaving millions in need of psychological support to overcome the traumas of dislocation and conflict. To undo the damage, child psychiatrist and TED Fellow Essam Daod has been working in camps, rescue boats and the shorelines of Greece and the Mediterranean Sea to help refugees (a quarter of which are children) reframe their experiences through short, powerful psychological interventions. "We can all do something to prevent this mental health catastrophe," Daod says. "We need to acknowledge that first aid is not just needed for the body, but it has also to include the mind, the soul."

- Mental health specialist
Essam Doad provides first response mental health interventions to refugees and displaced populations. Full bio

For the last two and a half years,
00:13
I'm one of the few, if not the only,
child psychiatrist
00:15
operating in refugee camps,
shorelines and rescue boats
00:19
in Greece and the Mediterranean Sea.
00:22
And I can say, with great confidence,
00:25
that we are witnessing
a mental-health catastrophe
00:27
that will affect most of us,
and it will change our world.
00:31
I live in Haifa, but nowadays,
I spend most of my time abroad.
00:35
During my time
on the Greek island of Lesbos
00:40
and on the rescue boats
in the Mediterranean,
00:43
thousands of refugee boats
arrived to the shoreline,
00:45
crowded with more
than 1.5 million refugees.
00:48
One-fourth of them are children,
00:52
fleeing war and hardship.
00:54
Each boat carries
different sufferings and traumas
00:56
from Syria, Iraq, Afganistan
and different countries in Africa.
00:59
In the last three years alone,
01:04
more than 12,000 refugees
lost their lives.
01:05
And hundreds of thousands
lost their souls and their mental health
01:09
due to this cruel
and traumatic experience.
01:13
I want to tell you about Omar,
01:17
a five-year-old Syrian refugee boy
01:19
who arrived to the shore on Lesbos
on a crowded rubber boat.
01:21
Crying, frightened, unable to understand
what's happening to him,
01:26
he was right on the verge
of developing a new trauma.
01:29
I knew right away
that this was a golden hour,
01:33
a short period of time
in which I could change his story,
01:35
I could change the story
01:39
that he would tell himself
for the rest of his life.
01:41
I could reframe his memories.
01:43
I quickly held out my hands
and said to his shaking mother in Arabic,
01:47
(Arabic) "Ateeni elwalad o khudi nafas."
01:52
"Give me the boy,
and take a breath."
01:54
His mother gave him to me.
01:56
Omar looked at me with scared,
tearful eyes and said,
01:59
(Arabic) "Ammo (uncle in Arabic),
shu hada?"
02:03
"What is this?"
02:06
as he pointed out to the police
helicopter hovering above us.
02:07
"It's a helicopter!
02:12
It's here to photograph you
with big cameras,
02:13
because only the great
and the powerful heroes,
02:15
like you, Omar, can cross the sea."
02:18
Omar looked at me,
stopped crying and asked me,
02:22
(Arabic) "Ana batal?"
02:27
"I'm a hero?"
02:28
I talked to Omar for 15 minutes.
02:32
And I gave his parents
some guidance to follow.
02:34
This short psychological intervention
02:37
decreases the prevalence
of post-traumatic stress disorder
02:39
and other mental health
issues in the future,
02:42
preparing Omar to get an education,
02:45
join the workforce,
raise a family and beyond.
02:47
How?
02:50
By stimulating the good memories
that will be stored in the amygdala,
02:51
the emotional storage of the human brain.
02:55
These memories
will fight the traumatic ones,
02:57
if they are reactivated in the future.
02:59
To Omar, the smell of the sea
will not just remind him
03:02
of his traumatic journey from Syria.
03:05
Because to Omar, this story
is now a story of bravery.
03:07
This is the power of the golden hour,
03:12
which can reframe the trauma
and establish a new narrative.
03:14
But Omar is only one
out of more than 350,000 children
03:19
without the proper mental health support
in this crisis alone.
03:25
Three hundred and fifty
thousand children and me.
03:30
We need mental health professionals
03:36
to join rescue teams
during times of active crisis.
03:38
This is why my wife and I and friends
co-founded "Humanity Crew."
03:42
One of the few aid
organizations in the world
03:48
that specializes in providing
psychosocial aid
03:50
and first-response
mental health interventions
03:52
to refugees and displaced populations.
03:55
To provide them
with a suitable intervention,
03:58
we create the four-step approach,
a psychosocial work plan
04:01
that follows the refugees
on each step of their journey.
04:04
Starting inside the sea,
on the rescue boats,
04:08
as mental health lifeguards.
04:12
Later in the camps, hospitals
and through our online clinic
04:14
that breaks down borders
and overcomes languages.
04:19
And ending in the asylum countries,
helping them integrate.
04:22
Since our first mission in 2015,
04:26
"Humanity Crew" had 194 delegations
04:29
of qualified, trained
volunteers and therapists.
04:32
We have provided 26,000 hours
of mental health support
04:35
to over 10,000 refugees.
04:39
We can all do something
to prevent this mental health catastrophe.
04:42
We need to acknowledge that first aid
is not just needed for the body,
04:47
but it has also to include
the mind, the soul.
04:52
The impact on the soul is hardly visible,
04:55
but the damage can be there for life.
04:57
Let's not forget that what
distinguishes us humans from machines
05:00
is the beautiful
and the delicate soul within us.
05:05
Let's try harder to save more Omars.
05:10
Thank you.
05:13
(Applause)
05:14
(Cheers)
05:18
(Applause)
05:20

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About the speaker:

Essam Daod - Mental health specialist
Essam Doad provides first response mental health interventions to refugees and displaced populations.

Why you should listen

In 2015, child psychiatrist Essam Daod was a volunteer doctor on the Greek island of Lesbos, where he witnessed the unspeakable suffering and trauma of thousands of refugees arriving from the Middle East, Asia and Africa. “I left the island wondering how these people can handle all this loss and trauma without any kind of psychosocial support,” he remembers. So, Daod founded the humanitarian aid agency Humanity Crew in 2015 with his wife Maria Jammal to provide such support. With an operating base in Greece, Humanity Crew recruits, trains and deploys mental health professionals and qualified volunteers to deliver psychosocial services to refugees and displaced populations in an effort to improve refugee well-being and prevent further psychological trauma. Leading research in the field of refugee mental health, Humanity Crew ultimately hopes to raise the profile of mental health care as a fundamental aspect of emergency humanitarian crisis response.

More profile about the speaker
Essam Daod | Speaker | TED.com