A study focusing on the psychosocial effects chronic warfare among refugee children in Southern Darfur is presented in a recent issue of Omega. A sample of 331 children (aged 6-17) from three refugee camps were selected to be part of the study. Of those in the sample, 43 percent were girls and 57 per cent were boys with an average age of twelve years. All of the children in the study were interviewed and tested with measures of traumatic stress, depression, and grief.The study results indicate that there were no significant differences between genders in terms of exposure to traumatic experiences, including rape, but older children (13-17 years) experienced a larger number of traumatic exposures than younger children (6-12 years). Seventy-five percent of the children met the DSM-IV criteria for PTSD, and 38 per cent exhibited clinical symptoms of depression. Twenty per cent of the children sampled also reported significant levels of grief symptoms.
The authors found that increased exposure to war experiences led to higher levels of: (1) traumatic reactions; (2) depression; and (3) grief symptoms. Of the different war experiences examined, abduction, hiding to protect oneself, being raped, and being forced to kill or hurt family members were most predictive of traumatic reactions. Factors most likely to predict depressive symptoms included: being raped, seeing others raped, the death of a parent, being forced to fight, and having to hide to protect oneself. Similar findings were reported for grief reactions. While trauma, depression, and grief often occur together, the mechanisms and ways in which they interact are less understood. This is the first study examining the psychosocial effects of war experiences among refugee children currently living in Sudan's war-zone areas. The authors recognize the need for further research into war-related atrocities and their varying impact on the children's psychological well-being and overall adjustment. Implications for planning mental health interventions are also discussed.