The Impact of Conflict on Mental Health – Tom Leadbetter

Television and social media has opened the worlds eyes to the human suffering and reality of conflict and for many the consequences of the conflicts currently taking place around the world are only too clear to see (Institute for Economics & Peace: 2015). However, there is another unseen impact of conflict which lasts long after the cessation of hostilities, those who suffer from mental health problems caused by having been witness to or subjected to traumatic events such as sexual violations, massacres, and torture (Silove: 2004). It has a serious negative impact on the populace including poverty, malnutrition, social decline and psychosocial illness and has an adverse effect on people’s physical and mental health causing, anger, depression, psychiatric disorders and social problems. Studies have shown the more a person suffers trauma the more they are likely to suffer from mental health problems (Millar-Tate: 2015). Based on the clear impact of conflict on mental health and the impact of mental health on individuals and society, targeted research needs to be done in order to inform mental health interventions in post conflict states.

The United Nations (UN) has recognised that for social development, mental health is a human right (Shawgi: 2015). Estimates from the World Health Organisation state that 10% of individuals who experience a traumatic event such as conflict will suffer serious mental health problems and another 10% will develop behaviour, resulting in them being unable to function effectively. Women and children are particularly vulnerable due to the changing face of conflict fought within states where antagonists flout humanitarian laws. (Murthy, Lakshminarayana: 2006) Taking the Syrian population of 22.5 million as an example that means there could be up to 4.5million people with potential future mental health problems (World Population Review 2015). Failure to address mental health issues post conflict will degrade efforts to promote post conflict reconstruction and will have an obvious impact on security and justice in post conflict peace building (Montgomery, Rondinelli: 2004). Long-term effects of untreated mental health issues can lead to heart disease, stroke and impaired growth and development in children (Ameresekere, Henderson: 2012).

Unfortunately there are very little studies, which show how a post-country state may deal with post conflict mental health issues (Millar Tate: 2015). One of the outstanding issues continually brought to light by many of the mental health articles was the lack of information on the evaluation of programs and that there were few population studies carried out in conflict areas and low income countries (The World Bank 2003). Millar-Tate (2015) states that even though there are proven links between diminished ability for productive social engagement, no research has been carried out on individuals in the reconciliation process. For a subject that could potentially have a serious impact on a countries progress in post conflict peace building this is staggering.

It is unfortunate but true that any type of mental health issue is underfunded and has a lower priority than physical illness where many organisations focus on the physical and economic impacts of post-conflict peace building (Ameresekere, Henderson: 2010). Almost 1% of the people in the world are currently displaced persons or refugees (Summerfield: 2000) and with more conflicts erupting daily that number will only get higher. Mental health problems both for those who remain in post conflict states and those who leave all have a negative effect on individuals, the country of origin and the receiving country. Failure to address the issues of mental health during peace building will hinder human development, lead to insecurity, break up families and communities and displace populations (The World Bank: 2003).

Mental health problems should be addressed in a post conflict society by improving the mental health provision including further empirical research into the causes of mental health issues in conflict countries to support conflict recovery. Indications show that there are ways to implement cost-effective programs across many different sectors with different approaches. Now is the time for western nations to realise and address the mental health issues, which exist in these conflict countries rather than the indifference currently shown. What is required is targeted research in order to inform and address mental health interventions in post conflict and low-income states. An increased understanding of the issues of mental health in post conflict societies would allow the development of a mental health policy to meet the mental health needs of not only the individual but ultimately the country. Interventions may also contribute to dealing with the anger and depression felt by many survivors of conflict.

Part 2

Mental health is a challenging topic to address throughout the world even in stable, peaceful states. There is also the social stigma of mental health with many stereotypical views and discrimination. This situation is exacerbated by cultural and religious beliefs. Since mental health is also more challenging to diagnose and identify it is often dismissed as a first world luxury or a reaction to stress and suffering. Since many symptoms of mental health disorders also can relate to other physical illnesses it is difficult to clearly provide proof to the average person. Since diagnosis is challenging and proving results of treatment is more difficult most development interventions do not target mental health during post conflict reconstruction. People either don’t understand or organisations want more for their money with tangible results they can show. Dealing with mental health can also be complex and with a scarcity of professionals in a war torn country it is even more difficult. However the fact that it is difficult does not mean that it should not be addressed, only by recognising and dealing with these issues can societies and organisations compile effective policies and strategies to deal with them. The ‘rubber band’ model of mental health used by many aid organisations working off the principle that people would revert back to normal once they had the basic necessities such as food, water and shelter is just not viable nor sustainable (Baingana, Bannon, Thomas: 2005). If the problem is not addressed and underestimated it will lead to a greater number of people to treat with poor health, mental illnesses such as depression all of which is inhibitive to building a successful, peaceful and sustainable country. The outcome may even mean that there is no relapse into post conflict violence.


Ameresekere, M. Henderson, D. (2010) ‘Post- Conflict Mental Health in South Sudan: Overview of Common Psychiatric Disorders. Part 1: Depression and post-traumatic Stress Disorder’. (accessed 15th Aug 2015).

Baingana, F. Bannon, I. Thomas, R. (2005) ‘Mental Health and Conflicts: Conceptual Framework and Approaches’, World Bank Human Development Network. (accessed 17th Aug 2015).

Institute for Economics & Peace. (2015) ‘Global Peace Index’ (accessed 16th Aug 2015).

Millar Tate, A (2015) ‘The Globalised World Post: The Effects of War-Related Mental Health issues on Post-Conflict Reconciliation and Transitional Justice’  (accessed 15th Aug 2015).

Montgomery, D, J. Rondinelli, A, D. (2004) ‘Beyond Reconstruction in Afghanistan: Lessons from Development Experience’ Palgrave MacMillan, New York.

Murthy, S, R. Lakshminarayana, R. (2006) ‘Mental Health consequences of war: a brief review of research findings’, World Psychiatry 5 (1) 25: 30 (accessed 16th Aug 2015).

Sayed, D, G. (2011) ‘Mental Health in Afghanistan: Burden, Challenges and the Way Forward’, The World Bank. (accessed 17th Aug 2015).

Shawgi, M. (2015) ‘Sudan’s Great Depression: Mental illness dangerously ignored by country’s health services’, African Arguments. (accessed 17th Aug 2015).

Silove, D. (2004) ‘The challenges facing mental health programs for post-conflict and refugee communities’ (accessed 15th Aug 2015).

Summerfield, D. (2000) ‘War and Mental Health: A brief Overview’, (accessed 15th Aug 2015).

The World Bank (2003) ‘Social Development Notes, Conflict Prevention and Reconstruction: Mental Health and Conflict’. (accessed 15th Aug 2015).

World Population Review (2015) (accessed 16th Aug 2015).

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