As I watched the world’s reporters across the world bringing us blow by blow accounts of Russia’s offensive against the Ukraine. I couldn’t help but think of the damage that this will cause on hundreds of thousands of people who have been forced to leave their homes and loved ones for safety.
While some will have physical proof and evidence of the impact of war on their lives, many more will escape without any visible physical wounds or scars. Apart from the immediate loss of life, homes and livelihoods, war also has long-term hidden psychological side effects which can lie dormant for many years until they are triggered such as, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The emotional psychological impact of these experiences will likely cause massive public health problems from diseases and destructive behaviours associated with trauma in the future for thousands of people who have been left traumatised by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In his 2003 book, Dangerous Lives: War and The Men and Women Who Report It, Dr Anthony Feinstein, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, conducted a study with close on 200 war or conflict reporters from around the world, and explained that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has a myriad of symptoms which include:
- Intrusion symptoms – which are recurrent and involuntary distressing images, including thoughts, dreams, and flashbacks of the traumatic event.
- Arousal symptoms – which include difficulty with sleep, anger control, concentration, heightened emotions, and hyper-vigilance.
- Avoidance symptoms – which is a tendency to ward off thoughts and/or conversations associated with the trauma, including feelings of detachment or estrangement from others, and an inability to recall important aspects of the trauma.
- Conversion disorder – which is rerouting emotional distress into physical ailments or the unconscious process of converting emotional dysfunction into neurological abnormalities causing as examples – inability to speak, move one’s limbs or to experience sensations such as pain.
What makes Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder hard to detect or treat in general is the fact that everyone is different, and has a different set of unconscious value structures which direct the content of their perceptions, morality, and ethics. In the spectrum of human psychology, there is an emotional core that produces a whole range of associated ideas, which is called a complex.
The complex has a life of its own or a micro-personality. This core often has a negative tinge such as anger or resentment, because negative-tinged emotions are still problems and they will emerge automatically as the human body’s threat-detection system forces these emotions into the consciousness, causing what we generally refer to as triggers.
In my 2021 Memoir, Soweto To Beirut, I give a personal account of my own experience with Post Traumatic Stress after covering the 2006 war in Lebanon between Hezbollah and Israel and other violent conflicts in my own country and the continent of Africa. In the book I attempt to illustrate through mine and people’s stories how trauma manifests itself in the individual and societies we live in.
Since we cannot prevent trauma from happening as it is now before our own eyes, we can only mitigate its impact by being aware of its symptoms and the different ways it can manifest itself.
We can arm ourselves with compassion, kindness and knowledge on how to help those who are victims to become stronger, more resilient better prepared to manage the symptoms when the war ends.
Soweto to Beirut is available for purchase on Amazon, Kindle, Google Books and Takealot