[MALAKAL,Radio Tamazuj] A study by the South Sudan Law Society finds that 53% of the people living in the United Nations 'Protection of Civilians' site in Malakal, Upper Nile state suffer symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
This high rate of PTSD in Malakal is similar to what was seen following the Rwandan and Cambodian genocides and also in previous studies in South Sudan. It is more than six times the rate of PTSD found in more stable contexts, according to the study.
PTSD is a treatable mental health problem triggered by experiencing or witnessing traumatic events such as war or violence. It can lead to severe stress and anxiety which can make everday life difficult. The high rate of PTSD among people in Malakal is likely connected to the violence people have experienced during South Sudan's ongoing civil war.
The Law Society interviewed 1178 people in the UN base which currently houses about 40,000 displaced people. 77% of people surveyed said they have lost a close family member to violence at some point in their lives, while 58% witnessed a friend or family member being killed. 84% of the people surveyed have had their home or other property destroyed in the conflict.
In addition, the study found very high levels of rape, with 20% of people surveyed saying they witnessed someone raped, and 4% of people reporting that they were raped.
"The overwhelming majority of traumatic experiences occurred in 2014 as a result of the on-going conflict," the Law Society said.
Mental health treatment needed for healing
The levels of PTSD varied dramatically between different ethnic groups, the study found, but for all groups were well above "normal" levels. In Malakal, there is a mix of tribes including Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk, and other tribes.
The study found that Nuer people had the highest level of PTSD at 70%, while 52% of Shilluk people exhibited PTSD symptoms. Only 34% of Dinka people, by contrast, exhibited PTSD symptoms.
However, even this lower rate of 34% among Dinka is over four times the rate of PTSD found in more stable environments.
The Law Society said the high rate of mental trauma in Malakal could hinder future reconciliation efforts between the tribes because people with PTSD tend to be less willing to forgive those who harmed them. Those with PTSD also have a greater sentiment for revenge.
In the case of Malakal, 65% of people with PTSD said they were not willing to forgive those who harmed them. By contrast, more than half of those without PTSD, 56%, said they were willing to forgive those who harmed them.
The Law Society recommended treating people for PTSD in order to help them reconcile and heal.
"Addressing the mental health impacts of conflict would thus go a long way towards creating an environment that is more conducive to truth,justice and reconciliation by increasing opportunities for forgiveness and reconciliation," the Law Society concluded.
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