Journal of Biosocial Science

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Regular Articles

MENTAL HEALTH AND COPING IN A WAR SITUATION: THE CASE OF BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA


MANUEL  CARBALLO  a1, ARIF  SMAJKIC  a1, DAMIR  ZERIC  a1, MONIKA  DZIDOWSKA  a1, JOY  GEBRE-MEDHIN  a1 and JOOST  VAN HALEM  a1
a1 International Centre for Migration and Health, Geneva, Switzerland

Abstract

The latter part of the twentieth century has seen an increased concern for the implications of war for civilian populations, and more attention has been given to psychosocial impacts of uprooting and displacement. ‘Loss of place’, acute and chronic trauma, family disruption and problems of family reunification have become issues of concern. The war in Bosnia was characterized by massive displacement, disruption and loss of life, relatives and property. Health and psychosocial well-being were affected in a number of ways. There was an overwhelming loss of perceived power and self-esteem. Over 25% of displaced people, for example, said they no longer felt they were able to play a useful role; even in non-displaced populations approximately 11% of those interviewed said that they had lost a sense of worth. Widespread depression and feelings of fatigue and listlessness were common and may have prevented people from taking steps to improve their situation. Almost a quarter of internally displaced people had a high startle capacity and said they were constantly nervous. Most adverse psychosocial responses increased with age and in a population that includes many elderly people this poses serious problems. The findings point to major challenges with respect to repatriation and reconstruction. They highlight the importance of family reunification and the facilitating of decision-making by affected people themselves. The findings also shed light on potential problems associated with over-dependence on external assistance and hence the need for people to be given the means of using their skills and knowledge to control their day-to-day lives.