Monday, August 18, 2008

Northern Uganda has one of world's highest rates of PTSD

From The New Vision in Uganda August 16:

Northern Uganda has one of the world's highest rates of a mental illness that results from horrific experiences, a survey has revealed.

The survey, conducted by a team of British and Uganda psychiatrists, established that the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder in northern Uganda is higher than that ever recorded anywhere in the world.

The researchers blamed it on two decades of armed conflicts and civil unrest. They also said that people suffering from the resultant stress and depression do not have access to the required mental health care.

Out of over 1,200 adults assessed by the psychiatrists in Gulu and Amuru districts in 2006, more than half (54 per cent) were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a research paper that the team published in the journal BMC Psychiatry.

The illness is characterized by feeling scared, bad dreams, flashbacks of past horrible events, worries, sleeplessness and angry outbursts. In extreme cases, the victims see objects that do not exist, which they refer to as ghosts.

Comparatively, the rates of PTSD recorded among refugees was 11.8 per cent in Guatemala, 38 per cent in Mexico, 4.6 per cent in the Thai-Burma border area, 5.6 per cent in Croatia 20-42 per cent in Afghanistan. The researchers also found out that 67 per cent of the individuals had signs of depression.

A person who is depressed feels irritable, persistently sad, unnecessarily tired, anxious, helpless, guilty, worthless and sleepless. They also lose interest in pleasurable activities including sex, fail to concentrate on tasks and usually have problems remembering details. Their appetite may rise or decline.

Dr Seggane Musisi, a lecturer of psychiatry at the Faculty of Medicine, Makerere University, said the high figures could be due to the fact that, "the research was started in 2006 when the war was still terrible in Northern Uganda. Most of the traumatic events were still fresh in the minds of the people."

The leading traumatic events experienced by the people were hunger, homelessness, unnatural death and murder of family members, narrowly escaping death, being ill without getting medical care and torture. Others were family break-ups, abduction, coercion, serious injuries, rape and sexual abuse.

The acting director of Butabika Hospital, Dr James Walugembe, said the total mental health cases treated in the hospital rose from 4,274 in 2005/06, to 5,604 in the last financial year.