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Invisible Wounds: Impacts of War and Terrorism on Children

Submitted by on September 5, 2013 – 6:44 PM

Anxiety-Linked-to-Chest-Pain-in-Children“Sometimes I dream that the soldiers are chasing and killing us. Sometimes I’m so afraid I stay awake all night until dawn”.

– Sebastian
Since the 9/11 attack, acts of war and terrorism have become prevalent in modern society. Throughout history, weapons have served as powerful sources of mass destruction and devastation, leading to a loss of human lives (6). Children around the world are not protected from these circumstances. Children are often unseen as victims.

 

Moreover, none of the children are resistant to the distressing effects of terrorism whether they live in America, India, Iraq or Pakistan. Unfortunately, thousands of children living in Karachi and many other parts of the world have had their firsthand experience with life threatening situations such as the 9/11 attack.

 

Since, the last few years,we have become habitual and insensitive towards news like bomb blast, target killing, violence and war etc. where people die in huge numbers every day. Adults as well as older children have now become immune to such calamities. But a child aged 6 years to 15 years is at a vulnerable stage and takes these events very seriously. Until recent times, little attention has been given to the psychological impacts of war and terrorism on children in Pakistan.

 

The resulting paucity of psychological interventions has given rise to feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, increasing use of substance abuse and criminal behavior among children (6). In order to prevent these devastating effects on children, this issue must be taken into account. This paper focuses on the impacts of traumatic events secondary to war and terrorism on children. Here, more focus will be laid upon the psychological impacts war has on children.

 

A traumatic event is described as an intense event which threatens the emotional and physical well-being of a child. It can result from  exposure to a natural disaster, war and terrorism, physical and sexual abuse or any serious injury. War and terrorism initiates a cascade of negative life events that include loss of loved ones, displacement, lack of education, changes in daily routine and a psychologically disturbed life.

 

War or any act of terror is the most challenging and difficult time for children, as they are psychologically immature. This psychological immaturity makes them more vulnerable to the effects of distressing and inescapable stressors (9,6). Children are reliant on care, empathy and support provided by their adults. When there is a suicide blast or war, their attachment with their loved ones is disturbed due to loss of parents, emotional unavailability of depressed parents and parents in extreme worrisome conditions.

 

The care of the child is then shifted to his/her relatives, Edhi centers and orphanage homes (2). War and blasts also affect the physical and emotional resources that are provided by their parents. On the other hand, children who are the victims of war or suicide bombings, lose the opportunity of acquiring education and are forced to move in camps where they reside for years in miserable conditions,waiting to recommence a normal life (2). According to a news report “A nine-year-old boy suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after witnessing a deadly bomb blast in Peshawar.

 

He became irritable, aggressive and said he wanted to kill someone. He couldn’t sleep, had flashbacks and stopped going to school”. The quality of life of children is impacted by the war and terrorism. Many children lose their limbs and are rendered disabled. So the whole life of these children will be lived under the shadow of war injury and they are less likely to be employed and to marry (2). Hence, such traumatic events bring negative changes in a child’s life.

War and terrorism not only disturbs physical and social life of children but also has an immense effect on the psychology of children. Children who are been the victims of war and terrorism show various responses according to their developmental levels. The responses of teenagers to any traumatic events include withdrawal from family members and peers, irritability, defiance, revenge, retribution and self-destructive or accident-prone behaviors. Moreover, teenagers are more susceptible to be influenced by terrorist organizations (9,6,8).

 

On the other hand, teenagers also seek negative coping strategies such as substance abuse (8). Furthermore, higher degree of psychological distress has been found among children who have witnessed the deaths of their family members(9). On the other hand, Children who suffer from stressors for more than one month are more likely to develop psychological disorder i.e. post-traumatic stress disorder(9). Furthermore, children who have not been directly affected by war and blasts have been psychologically affected by the violence around them.

 

War and terrorism also raise many questions in a child’s mind which many parents and teachers find  difficult to answer. Additionally, repeatedly watching horrific events on television increases anxiety and stress among children. These stressors can effect profoundly on child’s daily activities and academic performance. Thus, children become psychologically disturb due to war and terrorism.

 

War and blasts also impose drastic impacts later in the life of children. Researchers have found a positive relationship between childhood trauma and psychiatric disorders in adulthood. Children who experienced  traumatic events are more prone to the psychological disorders like depression and anxiety disorders in adulthood (5).

 

The impact of war and terrorism if addressed earlier can help such children to live well. A few recommendations to improve their lives are proposed here. At government level, psychologists and other mental health care providers should also be included in the team working for the victims or volunteer their services to the victims of blasts and war so that early detection of  psychological problems can be identified. Moreover, ongoing facilities of mental health care should be provided by the government for the victims so that they should timely be screened for anxiety disorders, depression and other behavioral problems(9).

 

In developed countries like USA, an international society for traumatic stress has been made whose goal is to provide best possible care to the victims of trauma, such societies should be made in our country to relieve psychological distress of children so that adult mental illness can be prevented. The Forum for Secular Pakistan (FS) in collaboration with Pakistan Association of Mental Health has  provided psychiatrist and psychology counseling facilities for the victims especially women and children of the Abbas Town blast. Such services should be implemented in the future to minimize the  psychological consequences of traumatic events in our country (4).

 

In our country psychiatrists and psychologists are far short than needed to handle the current critical situation. There is one psychologist for every 315,000 of the population. So there should be some volunteer trained by mental health professionals who can  help in fulfilling the psychological needs of children following such traumatic event. On the other hand, parents and teachers should be aware of the children’s responses to the traumatic events so that their support would help in early recovery of their child.

Our global village is being threatened by terrorism. The challenge of war and terrorism to one country is a challenge to all. It’s time to work together to lessen the devastating effects of traumatic events, prevent countless suffering, save lives and to maintain a better world for children.

1-Ahmad, A. (2010). War and post-traumatic stress disorder in children: A review. Health and the
Environment Journal, 1(2), 73-79
2- Barbara, J. S. (2008). Theimpact of war on children. In B. Levy & V. Sidel (Eds.), War and Public Health (2nd Ed.). Retrieved fromhttp://books.google.com.pk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=J2dQsvnVtTgC&oi=fnd&pg=PA179&dq=2. &ots=KdadgTegen&sig=wiNuMF4vYq2j0Wn6x-PPsDX6598
3- Deranieri, J. T., Clements, P. T., Kuhn, D. W., & Manno, M. S. (2004). War, terrorism, and
children. The Journal of School Nursing 69, 20(2), 69-75.
4-Fsp psychiatrist clinic for abbas town victims. (2013, March 26). Daily Times.
Retrieved from http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=20133\26\story_26-3-2013_pg7_20
5-Heim, C. (2009). Childhood trauma and adult stress responsiveness. 1-7. Retrieved from
http://www.enfant-encyclopedie.com/pages/PDF/HeimANGxp.pdf
6-Joshi, P. T., & O’Donnell3, D. A. (2003). Consequences of child exposure to war and terrorism.
Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 6(4), 275-292.
7-Lykes, M. B. (2002). The psychosocial effects of war on children. Retrieved from http://www.newday.com/guides/mango/16psychosocial.html
8-Wooding, S., & Raphael, B. (2004). Psychological impact of disasters and terrorism on children and adolescents:experiences from australia. Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, 19(1), 10-20.
9-Ahmed, M. B. (2007). Effects of terrorism on children. Journal of the Islamic Medical Association, Retrieved from http://www.mcc-hs.org/Articles/Effects of Terrorism on Children.pdf[f1]

About the Author: Bakhtawar Altaf Hussain has done a Bachelors in nursing from Aga khan University School of Nursing and Midwifery Karachi, Pakistan and joined AKUH as a nursing intern. Bakhtawer can be reached at  [email protected]

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