Why Reporting on Refugee Crises Requires Empathy for Mental Health Issues

Zozan Qerani, 23, a Yazidi Kurd from Iraq’s Sinjar region, had just shared with me her medical records, in which a Greek doctor diagnosed her with depression, anxiety, and episodes of “conscious psychosis,” when she fainted and then started convulsing. This was three weeks ago at a Greek refugee camp. I was talking with Qerani about psychological services for residents when the seizure hit. Later, doctors confirmed that the stress of the interview had likely provoked it.

As the ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe stretches into its second year, it is nearly impossible to cover the story without talking to sources who are under enormous stress. That often means diagnosing someone’s fitness to speak safely, a role for which most reporters aren’t trained.

But if we don’t ask people like Qerani to talk frankly, and on the record, then the story of more than 600,000 people estimated to be suffering serious mental trauma, including suicide risk, and the strain they’ve placed on medical systems across the continent, quickly becomes impossible to cover. Lacking the kind of eyewitness evidence refugee testimonies provide, there’s nothing to report, and editors and readers will tire of the story.

This piece was originally published by our colleagues at Columbia Journalism Review. Click here to continue reading.