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Acknowledging the PTSD that emerges in students who witness conflict

This post will discuss the mental health problems that emerge among children that are living in conflict inflicted zones, while focusing on Swat.

Till 2009, the Swat valley was under the rule of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan who committed acts of violence against government security forces, elders and other civilians that were opposed to the group. Recently, there have been instances of the TTP’s re-emergence in the Swat Valley as they have been accused of carrying out targeted killings once again after more than a decade.

So, the school-going children during the initial rule of the TTP witnessed and suffered through instances of extreme violence and thus they were victims of mental health problems. Inevitably, the children who are going to school in 2022 will also suffer the same fate. However, these mental health problems are never recognized and addressed.

A study was conducted by the Department of Community Health Sciences at Hamdard College to research the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) amongst young people in the Swat Valley. The results of the study showed that the subjects had experienced 16 out of 17 symptoms of PTSD (as set out in criteria mentioned in the Diagnostic and statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-1V (DSM-1V). Some of these symptoms include:

1. Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event.

2.Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world.

3.Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior.

The results of the study ranged from a high of 79% for ‘psychological distress and exposure to cues’ to a low of 32% for ‘sense of a foreshortened future’. The study also indicated that students are affected differently depending on their gender, the nature of the event, such as the devastation and destruction that has occurred, and the injuries and lives lost.

Similar studies have been done in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Algeria that establish the potential link of the aftermath of conflict to psychological issues and higher rates of prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among the survivors. Moreover, PTSD is a mental disorder that has long-lasting and harmful effects on a person’s health and quality of life. In addition, PTSD has a direct association with substance abuse, self-harm and other co-morbid psychiatric disorders.

Evidently, students who are suffering from PTSD are not able to have a normal school-going experience even after the conflict has ended. The mental health care system in Swat is not equipped to deal with the prevalence of PTSD as there is only one psychiatrist for more than a population of two million. Moreover, there is also a deep under-lying social stigma attached to mental illnesses in Pakistan and a popular misconception is that they occur due to the possession of “Jin”, evil eyes or “Jadoo”.

Thus, in order to provide mental health assistance to students in Swat, we first need to acknowledge and address that PTSD is a real illness and then we need to eliminate the taboos and misbeliefs that are attached to it. Only then can we provide these children with the treatment they need and deserve in order to have a proper educational experience.

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5 Comments


Iman Asif
Iman Asif
Dec 10, 2022

This is an extremely important post. PTSD should be recognized and eliminated in order for children to pursue education properly, A part of post-conflict and ongoing conflict education should be on how to deal with trauma, how to channel emotions, and how to express them in a healthy way while also allowing them to eventually fade away. This should be incorporated into the conflict-setting curricula and sensitivity training should be provided to teachers and staff in order to build a healthy learning environment during and post-conflict.

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Maha Waheed
Maha Waheed
Dec 10, 2022

It reminded when the APS attack happened so. Our school was right next to APS, and we stayed in school till 2 am hearing all the bombing that was happening in the school next to us. Three months after that, we went back to school, and no one ever talked about what happened or the trauma stayed inside; lots of people lost their loved ones in that attack and were in the same class as us. We as a community have never acknowledged how that could have affected all those kids, and providing psychological support should be made mandatory by the government, but also it should be normalized to talk about the trauma that one has gone through and debrief

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This blog points out such a sensitive and important issue, great points!

The points raised about the state's role in providing psychological support to these students is valid but the other point about the stigmas and acknowledging the ptsd is so critical. we might not be able to fully understand what they have to go through. the distress, the trauma, and as mentioned in another comment, the anxiety can be so bad and affect the normal functioning of a human body. and to go to schools and get education is such circumstances is a big challenge to them and to the leaders who are responsible for catering to these issues. and on top of PTSD and other mental issues, they…

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Not just PTSD but Anxiety, Depression, and Panic Attacks are some other disabilities faced by students of armed conflict. In a variety of general population studies, statistical estimates showed that mental distress is between 1% and 5%, and between 3% and 58% for high-risk populations, such as displaced individuals. Furthermore, evidence suggests that exposure to violence, especially in conflicted zones, might act as a catalyst for domestic violence and child maltreatment. In particular, PTSD symptoms, such as irritability and outbursts of anger, as well as elevated rates of alcohol consumption in parents, may contribute to higher levels of child abuse.

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Great Post!

Its so important to highlight that students who live or have gone through conflicts mostly suffer from PTSD and its the state's duty to offer services that help them recover. Mental Health professionals can play an important role in educational settings to help students in coping the trauma and lead them towards recovery. The role a mental health professional can play in a school can be of a school counsellor, school psychologist, a skilled teacher etc. These roles should ensure that critical services are provided at the school level like the affected students are identified, assistance provided to restore normal functioning among them and skill based psychological first aid (PFA) provided to the students. The school staff should…

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