Essam Daod shares a story of one way we can bring brief, important support to refugees at critical times.
And also offers us a window of insight into how any of us might support any other of us midst potentially traumatising experiences in ways that enable us to emerge not traumatised but potentially stronger.
There is much guff ‘n’ gumph and self-agrandising bluster about, professing to be “trauma informed” but much is not really informed at all. Trauma is not the events we endure but the effect left within us from adverse experience of those events – so leaving us powerless, disconnected and dehumanized – and finding it difficult to feel safe in the world.
As Peter Levine puts it:
“Trauma is not what happens to us
but what we hold inside in absence of empathetic witnesses.”
Whether a person is left traumatised by an event has less to do with the event itself than how we experience it – and especially how we are treated by those around us after the event.
Essam Daod offers inspiration and insight into this with a simple story, one example and how a simple short human ‘intervention’ can change how we experience even the most trying and terrifying events in ways that enable us to come-through not unscathed but with some good chance we can emerge with resilience, strengthened and live fully our lives.
And he’s a psychiatrist too so he also offers hope for a profession so often seems to have sold it’s own by showing us an example of what it really means to work as a “soul healer”.
Link below- note that links to embed vids from TED.com tend not to embed properly, I’ll add it in when it goes up on on the TED youtube channel.
If it doesn’t embed right now on your browser then clicking the link will take you there.
Transcript [available at TED.com in seven languages]
For the last two and a half years, I’m one of the few, if not the only, child psychiatrist operating in refugee camps, shorelines and rescue boats in Greece and the Mediterranean Sea. And I can say, with great confidence, that we are witnessing a mental-health catastrophe that will affect most of us, and it will change our world.
I live in Haifa, but nowadays, I spend most of my time abroad. During my time on the Greek island of Lesbos and on the rescue boats in the Mediterranean, thousands of refugee boats arrived to the shoreline, crowded with more than 1.5 million refugees.
One-fourth of them are children, fleeing war and hardship.
Each boat carries different sufferings and traumas from Syria, Iraq, Afganistan and different countries in Africa. In the last three years alone, more than 12,000 refugees lost their lives. And hundreds of thousands lost their souls and their mental health due to this cruel and traumatic experience.
I want to tell you about Omar, a five-year-old Syrian refugee boy who arrived to the shore on Lesbos on a crowded rubber boat. Crying, frightened, unable to understand what’s happening to him, he was right on the verge of developing a new trauma. I knew right away that this was a golden hour, a short period of time in which I could change his story, I could change the story that he would tell himself for the rest of his life. I could reframe his memories. I quickly held out my hands and said to his shaking mother in Arabic,
I talked to Omar for 15 minutes. And I gave his parents some guidance to follow. This short psychological intervention decreases the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues in the future, preparing Omar to get an education, join the workforce, raise a family and beyond.
How? By stimulating the good memories that will be stored in the amygdala, the emotional storage of the human brain.
These memories will fight the traumatic ones, if they are reactivated in the future. To Omar, the smell of the sea will not just remind him of his traumatic journey from Syria. Because to Omar, this story is now a story of bravery.
We need mental health professionals to join rescue teams during times of active crisis. This is why my wife and I and friends co-founded “Humanity Crew.” One of the few aid organizations in the world that specializes in providing psychosocial aid and first-response mental health interventions to refugees and displaced populations. To provide them with a suitable intervention, we create the four-step approach, a psychosocial work plan that follows the refugees on each step of their journey. Starting inside the sea, on the rescue boats, as mental health lifeguards. Later in the camps, hospitals and through our online clinic that breaks down borders and overcomes languages. And ending in the asylum countries, helping them integrate.
Since our first mission in 2015, “Humanity Crew” had 194 delegations of qualified, trained volunteers and therapists. We have provided 26,000 hours of mental health support to over 10,000 refugees. We can all do something to prevent this mental health catastrophe. We need to acknowledge that first aid is not just needed for the body, but it has also to include the mind, the soul. The impact on the soul is hardly visible, but the damage can be there for life.
Let’s not forget that what distinguishes us humans from machines is the beautiful and the delicate soul within us. Let’s try harder to save more Omars.
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