What is mental health and how is it harmed by conflict and violence?

Abstract

One of the consequences of all the Organised Violence and Torture (OVT) that has afflicted Zimbabwe for the past 40 or so years is a very large number of person suffering from trauma-related disorders. Studies of the prevalence of psychological disorders generally show that the overall prevalence rose by nearly 11% between the late 1980s and 2005. However, the prevalence amongst persons exposed to OVT is considerably higher, with estimates ranging from 13% to over 70% depending on the group studied. This report provides a brief overview of OVT and its consequences, pointing out the likely psychological effects and the need for a comprehensive mental service addressing the needs of all sufferers.

Introduction

Zimbabwe, despite its deceptive appearance to the naïve outsider, is a country beset by Organised Violence and Torture (OVT) for many decades. It was brought into being by a colonial war, suffered violence and displacement through the 70 years of settler domination, liberated through a civil war, suffered through low intensity conflicts in the 80s, and a long, sustained period of episodic violence has characterised the country since 1999 to date. It is therefore hardly surprising that this has resulted in great and continuing suffering for a very large proportion of its people.

It is interesting that the new country of Zimbabwe came into being just as mental health professionals were beginning to realise the pernicious consequences of OVT. The first official classification of psychological disorders due to trauma, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) came in 1980. A decade later, in Southern Africa, the impetus for dealing with these problems came in 1990 in an important conference held in Harare.

This conference led to a sudden growth of organisations across Africa, paralleling similar growth around the world, with local organisation, the Amani Trust, being amongst the first of these, together with what became the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) in Johannesburg and the Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture in Cape Town. There are now 150 such centres in 75 countries across the world, attesting to the importance that health professionals now accord the health consequences of organised violence and torture.

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Source: Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU)