Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Conflict has left countless Colombians traumatized for life

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 27th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In the South American nation of Colombia, decades of bloodshed between D the government, leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary groups have left untold psychological scars on the survivors. The conflict killed at least 100,000 people and forced about five million Colombians to flee their homes. The Doctors Without Borders group says that the trauma inflicted on survivors here has remained a largely unseen, psychological problem.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - There are the expected signs of stress among the very young. Children have recurring nightmares and wet their beds, while their parents suffer depression, anxiety and panic disorders.

Doctors Without Borders, or MSF says that the impact of the conflict on people's mental health is a problem that is largely invisible and unaccounted for.

"Despite the profound impact that violence has on Colombia's population, mental health continues to be a little known issue. People suffer alone, in silence and are often ignored," Javier Llorca, head of MSF in Colombia, told a press conference in Bogota.

Based upon 4,455 patient consultations with MSF psychologists in four provinces in southern Colombia, the report found that nearly 70 percent of those patients surveyed had directly experienced one or more types of violence, making them more vulnerable to mental illness. Witness to sexual violence and rape - both at the hands of relatives and by armed groups; survivors weathered killings or lost family members who disappeared or were murdered. Others were forcibly displaced, taken hostage or caught in crossfire between warring factions.

A survivor who has been exposed to such trauma is 4.3 times more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder than someone who has not endured such violence, MSF said in its report.

One harrowing example was an unnamed woman who witnessed the killing of her neighbors by an armed group, forcing her and her family to leave their home.

"I have dreams where I see the heads of my neighbors. I see them crying, begging for mercy. I wake up crying," the 50-year-old woman is quoted as saying in the report.

"I've never seen my husband so quiet. I've never seen him cry in silence. I have to say that my son is not the boy he once was. Now in his eyes there's no sweetness but anger and hate. I don't know what will become of us. Our lives won't be the same because we've been displaced."

A third of the survivors, 1,410 people said they had been victims of domestic violence, the most common type of violence cited.

"There is academic research that shows domestic violence increases in the context of armed conflicts," Cristina Carreno, a psychiatrist and head of MSF's mental health program in Colombia said.

Under Colombia's laws and constitution, mental health care is seen as a basic right, which means the government should provide it to all citizens when necessary. For those living in conflict-ridden regions, mostly around the nation's southern provinces, people have little or no access to mental health services, MSF says.

"There are gaps in Colombia's mental health laws, a lack of psychologists in rural areas and obstacles in accessing mental health services, particularly in areas where there's no state presence. The response of health authorities to mental health disorders is in general limited and inadequate," MSF's Llorca said.

Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)