Mental illness affects a fifth of people living in war zones says WHO
The number is significantly higher among peacetime populations where one in 14 people has a mental illness.
One of the long-term impacts of war-induced crisis in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen is the burden of mental disorders. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in five people in war zones is likely to be affected by a mental health disorder.
The mental health problems are broadly categorised in three conditions, namely, pre-existing conditions that escalate during times of war, emergency-induced conditions that includes harmful use of alcohol and drugs, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and humanitarian response-induced conditions such as lack of information about food distribution or obtaining basic services.
The United Nation’s health agency analysed 129 studies -- published between 1980 and August 2017 -- in 39 countries that examined people who have experienced war or other conflict in the last decade. This study is published in The Lancet medical journal and was carried out by a team of researchers from the WHO, Australia's Queensland University, University of Washington and Harvard University.
The result showed that 22 per cent of the population have at least one or a combination of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. In comparison, numbers are significantly higher in peacetime populations where this affects one in every 14 persons.
Regions that have seen conflict in the last 10 years were included and mental illnesses were categorised as either mild, moderate or severe. The estimated prevalence of mental health disorders among conflict-affected populations at any given time is 13 per cent for mild forms, four per cent for moderate forms and as high as five per cent for severe forms of disorders. The findings showed that one in 11 people living in a setting that exposed to conflict will have a moderate or severe mental disorder.
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“This is normal and will for most people improve over time. However, the prevalence of common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety is expected to more than double in a humanitarian crisis,” said the agency. However, in conflict-affected settings, depression and anxiety increase with age.
Since World War Two, almost 69 million people globally have been forced to flee war and violence. In 2016 alone, the number of ongoing armed conflicts reached an all-time high of 53 in 37 countries. This equates to nearly 12 per cent of the world's population who were living in an active war zone.
Mental health must also be seen as an important component of national disaster preparedness plans. Millions of people face an urgent need for scalable mental health interventions that are practical and implementable. Immediate and sustained investment is key to ensure psychosocial support is available to those in need. This includes people living through conflict and its aftermath.