Are we misinterpreting the scale of post-traumatic stress?

July 20, 2000

War and mental health: a brief overview

The belief that distress, caused by traumatic experiences during violent conflicts, is a precursor for psychological disturbance is called into question in this week's BMJ.

In the third of four BMJ articles looking at conflict and health, Derek Summerfield, from the Department of Psychiatry at St George's Hospital, London argues that there is no such thing as a universal response to highly stressful events. He warns that labelling the human response to such events as "post-traumatic stress disorder" - regardless of personal, social and cultural variables - is a serious distortion, which may generate large overestimates of the numbers needing treatment.

Research shows that although some victims do develop significant psychiatric and social dysfunction, the relation between traumatic experiences and outcomes is not clearcut. For instance, in Iraqi asylum seekers in London, poor social support was more closely related to depression than was a history of torture. War is not a private experience, says the author and the social recovery of survivor populations - rather than medical intervention - should form the major thrust of humanitarian programmes, he argues.

The scale of mental disorders in developing countries remains sketchy, says the author. More research is needed on possible links between chronic illness and unresolved grief or cultural alienation, the impact of Western psychiatry on different cultures, and how or why individuals become psychological casualties. Many questions remain unanswered, but the complex relation between mental health and culture means researchers must beware of projecting findings from one population to another, concludes the author.

Derek Summerfield, Honorary Senior Lecturer, Department of Psychiatry, St George's Hospital Medical School, London SW17 0RE


Related Mental Health Articles from Brightsurf:

Mental health strained by disaster
A new study found that suicide rates increase during all types of disasters -- including severe storms, floods, hurricanes and ice storms -- with the largest overall increase occurring two years after a disaster.

The mental health impact of pandemics for front line health care staff
New research shows the impact that pandemics have on the mental health of front-line health care staff.

World Mental Health Day -- CACTUS releases report of largest researcher mental health survey
On the occasion of 'World Mental Health Day' 2020, CACTUS, a global scientific communications company, has released a global survey on mental health, wellbeing and fulfilment in academia.

Mental illness, mental health care use among police officers
A survey study of Texas police officers examines how common mental illness and mental health care use are in a large urban department.

COVID-19 outbreak and mental health
The use of online platforms to guide effective consumption of information, facilitate social support and continue mental health care delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic is discussed in this Viewpoint.

COVID-19 may have consequences for mental health
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be adversely affecting mental health among hospitalised patients, the healthcare professionals treating them and the general population.

Mental health outcomes among health care workers during COVID-19 pandemic in Italy
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and insomnia among health care workers in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic are reported in this observational study.

Mental ill health 'substantial health concern' among police, finds international study
Mental health issues among police officers are a 'substantial health concern,' with around 1 in 4 potentially drinking at hazardous levels and around 1 in 7 meeting the criteria for post traumatic stress disorder and depression, finds a pooled data analysis of the available international evidence, published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Examining health insurance nondiscrimination policies with mental health among gender minority individuals
A large private health insurance database was used to examine the association between between health insurance nondiscrimination policies and mental health outcomes for gender minority individuals.

Mental health care for adolescents
Researchers examined changes over time in the kinds of mental health problems for which adolescents in the United States received care and where they got that care in this survey study with findings that should be interpreted within the context of several limitations including self-reported information.

Read More: Mental Health News and Mental Health Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to