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1 in 5 People Living in Conflict Areas Has a Mental Health Problem
  • Steven Reinberg
  • Posted June 12, 2019

1 in 5 People Living in Conflict Areas Has a Mental Health Problem

About 22% of people who live in conflict areas suffer from mental health problems, a new study review finds.

Common problems include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, according to the World Health Organization. About 9% have a moderate to severe mental health condition.

These conclusions are based on a review of 129 previously published studies. The numbers are significantly higher than the global estimate of 1 in 14 in the general population.

Researchers said earlier studies underestimated how living in war zones and other conflict areas affects mental health. They found that depression and anxiety increased with age, and said depression was more common in women than men.

Mild mental health conditions were the most common (13%). An estimated 4% of conditions were moderate, and 5% were severe.

The report was published June 11 in the journal The Lancet.

"I am confident that our study provides the most accurate estimates available today of the prevalence of mental health conditions in areas of conflict," lead author Fiona Charlson said in a journal news release. She is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Queensland in Australia and the University of Washington in Seattle.

Conflict areas today include Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

In 2016, the number of wars was at a historic high -- with 53 ongoing conflicts in 37 countries and 12% of the world's population living in an active conflict zone, the study found. Almost 69 million people worldwide have been displaced by violence and conflict, the most since World War II.

Researchers said the complexity of collecting data in conflict areas may result in faulty estimates. Cultural differences in how conditions are diagnosed may also affect the findings, they added.

Cristiane Duarte, a professor of child psychology at Columbia University in New York City, wrote an accompanying editorial that called for greater attention to mental health in conflict zones.

"Notwithstanding its limitations, current estimates warrant greater investment in prevention and treatment of mental disorders in conflict-affected populations," she wrote.

More information

The journal Science offers more on mental problems in conflict areas.

SOURCE: The Lancet, news release, June 11, 2019
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