How War Affects the Mental Health of the Youth
Author: Brander Sattler
From: East Meadow, NY, USA
The explosions, the carnage, the anguish, the destruction, the death, the separation of families-war is a traumatic experience. Just imagine what you were doing during our childhood. You were probably going to school, playing with your friends, or even drawing a picture (always making sure you drew the sun in the corner). However, imagine the experience of children in war-torn countries who instead of listening to fireworks on 4th of July, are listening to Western bombs that are meant to do damage. Instead of worrying about whether your parents are going to catch you taking a snack in the middle of night, you have to worry about whether all of your family members are going to be with you the next day. Going through all this at a tender age must be traumatizing. Let’s dive into how a child’s mental health is affected by war.
Studies and statistics
It is not a shock that war is a disaster for the mental health of children. Studies conducted in many war-torn places have shown this. For example, Lebanon. Lebanon has been ravaged by civil wars as well as two Israeli invasions, so they are no stranger to devastating military conflicts on their soil. In a study conducted of 224 Lebanese children (whose ages range from 10-16 years), it has been found that war-related experiences positively correlate to PTSD symptoms. Another place in the Middle East that has been ravaged by war is Palestine (more specifically Gaza). In a study conducted by the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, only about 2.5% of children (ages 10-19 years) do not exhibit PTSD symptoms. The rest have some form of PTSD symptoms. More specifically, 49.2% suffer from moderate PTSD symptoms, 15.6% from mild PTSD symptoms, 32.7% suffering from PTSD that requires psychological intervention. It is safe to say that war is detrimental to the mental health of children, but why do children in war torn areas experience PTSD so often?
Science Behind the Disorders
What is the psychology behind why children in war torn areas often experience PTSD? To answer this question, you’ll need to understand these next 3 parts of the brain. The amygdala is the stress/emotions evaluator, the hippocampus stores memories, and the prefrontal cortex is responsible for rational thought and decision making.
When individuals with PTSD experience traumatizing experiences, the hippocampus (memory) and the prefrontal cortex (rational thought) use nerve circuits to calm the amygdala (stress and emotions) down so the amygdala can produce positive thoughts. However, when too many of these traumatizing experiences occur, the nerve circuits between these parts of the brain breaks down, making it so that the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex cannot instruct the amygdala to think of calming thoughts, and the hippocampus (which is not thinking properly) replays the memories of bad experiences over and over again. This phenomenon often occurs in children that reside in war torn areas. For example, many children in Gaza (remember, 97.5 % experience PTSD or symptoms) cite that the cause of most of their trauma is from witnessing funerals (public funerals for the dead are common in Gaza) as well assessing injured or dead strangers or family members. In these children, the nerve circuits between the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex are not working properly, causing their PTSD.
Why Does This Matter?
Unfortunately, this issue matters because there is little that war-torn countries can do in order to help these children achieve better lives. For example, mental health facilities are extremely scarce in Somalia, which is a country that has about 10,000 children that are in need of mental health treatment. In addition, the WHO (World Health Organization) points out that there are very few mental health facilities in Syria, which is one of the most war torn countries in the world. Thus, recognizing that mental health of people, especially children, in war-torn whereas is of grave importance, and that foreign aid is needed for something as simple as mental health, not weapons.
I ask you as the reader to raise awareness of this very serious issue and to share this article with others. Also, if you have family in war-torn countries, please call them or contact them in any way. In a study conducted in Afghanistan, one of the best forms of emotional support was family. Remember that you are in a privileged position and to use your voice for better.
Author: Branden Sattler
Branden is a rising junior at East Meadow High School. He has a passion for psychology and wants to understand how different aspects of life affect a person’s emotional well-being.
DCoE Director Explains Science Behind PTSD. (2019, May 29). Retrieved December 17, 2020, from https://www.brainline.org/article/dcoe-director-explains-science-behind-ptsd
Mental health conditions in conflict situations are much more widespread than we thought. (n.d.). Retrieved December 17, 2020, from https://www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/mental-health-conditions-in-conflict-situations-are-much-more-widespread-than-we-thought
Murthy, R., & Lakshminarayana, R. (2006, February). Mental health consequences of war: A brief review of research findings. Retrieved December 17, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1472271/
Rathi, A. (2016). Psychological Impact of Victims of War and Conflict. PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi:10.1037/e512952016-001