News / Health

Bringing Healing to Traumatized Victims of Mass Violence

Bringing Healing to Traumatized Victims of Mass Violencei
X
May 06, 2014 2:27 AM
An estimated one billion people around the world have experienced mass violence, torture or terrorism and are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. Some are unable to work or care for themselves or their families. Now, a small American foundation, begun by the family of a victim of the September 11 attacks, is establishing trauma clinics in poor countries scarred by violence. VOA News's Carolyn Weaver reports.
Carolyn Weaver
An estimated one billion people around the world have experienced mass violence, torture or terrorism and are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.  Some are unable to work or care for themselves or their families.  Now, a small American foundation, begun by the family of a victim of the September 11 attacks, is establishing trauma clinics in poor countries scarred by violence.
 
New Yorker Liz Alderman and James Okello, a child psychiatrist visiting from Uganda, would never have met if not for tragedy.  Her youngest son, Peter, was killed in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center.  
 
"He did not work in the building, he was there for a meeting, and he was 25 years old when he died.  My husband and I needed to create a memorial for him, to leave a mark that he had existed and that the world would be a better place because Peter had lived," Alderman said.
 
Watching a TV show one night, she and Peter's father, Stephen Alderman, stumbled on the idea of bringing mental health care to people in poorer countries traumatized by mass violence and terrorism.  The first Peter C. Alderman Trauma Treatment Clinic opened in Cambodia in 2005.
 
"In the first year, we had 4,000 patient visits, and and a 14-month waiting list, so we opened a second clinic 18 miles down the road the next year," she said.
 
"People often ask us why are you seeing patients in Cambodia?  I mean Pol Pot was 30, 35 years ago," she said.  "Traumatic depression doesn't go away.  You see this in children of Holocaust survivors.  Traumatic depression can go from one generation to the next, and unless you treat it, it's still there."
 
"We are dealing with people who have been so traumatized by what they have experienced that they can no longer function," Alderman said.  "If people don't care whether they live or die, they're not going to be able to follow the very difficult HIV/AIDS regimen, they're not going to walk the extra mile for potable water.  A lot of our patients can't even get out of their beds."
 
In Uganda, where there are four clinics, patients include many former child soldiers and others abducted into war over two decades by the Lord's Resistance Army.  James Okello directs the clinic in Gulu, in the North, which helps patients through counseling, group therapy and psychopharmacology.
 
"If there's no form of intervention, with almost every trauma there's going to be a problem. We sometimes talk about delayed post-traumatic stress disorder. That's the concept that, when the guns stop firing, the mind starts firing. So, a lot of things happen when the emergency situation is long gone," he said.
 
Okello is one of only four child and adolescent psychiatrists in Uganda, he said. 
Most of the country's 32 other psychiatrists work in the capital city region. 

"Fortunately, the mental health problems we see in children and adolescents tend to be self-limiting, if you can provide them with a child-friendly space, psycho-social program interventions, and re-connect them with their families.  A lot of these children are very resilient, and by the nature of the African setting, people are more communal, so there is some semblance of normality coming back, in terms of family structures," he said.
 
Even so, he said, the incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder is very high in northern Uganda, and about five percent of those affected will not recover without help, which often includes antidepressants or antianxiety medications.  Psychological education is also important, he said.
 
"We try to explain to people that their experience of trauma is the abnormal thing, and the reactions, the symptoms, are a normal physiological reaction," he said.  "I think there's where we have a big fight with the Western world about pathologizing normative responses.  One of the key factors is when patients realize the symptoms they are experiencing are actually normal.  That is a first step to recovery," he said.
 
The clinics are set up in partnership with each country, and staffed solely by indigenous healthcare givers who understand traumatic mental illness in medical terms and according to local culture.
 
"We use cultural idioms to express the same Western symptoms," Okello said.  "You start from their perspective, their own understanding of what is happening to them.  [A patient might] say, 'I am bewitched,'  or 'I am experiencing spirit possession,' or 'I didn't do any rituals.'  And then, if you see there's a big fit with the Western model, you explain it to them.  So, I think anybody who is not culturally literate, who does not understand the culture, you're likely to miss a lot or even over-diagnose, depending on which tool you're using."
 
The Peter C. Alderman Foundation also has a clinic in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, and has worked in Rwanda, Liberia and Haiti.  It holds an annual training and research conference in Africa in July, and funds a new medical publication, the African Journal of Traumatic Stress.  Alderman says more than 200 indigenous health care professionals have been trained, who have gone on to teach many others, and care has reached more than 75,000 patients.

You May Like

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

Video One Year After Massacre, Iraq’s Yazidis a Broken People

Minority community still recovering from devastating assault by IS militants which spurred massive outrage More

‘Malvertisements’ Undermine Internet Trust

Hackers increasingly prey on users' trust of major websites to delivery malicious software More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Patrick from: Kampala
May 13, 2014 12:49 AM
Great job!

by: Pilivi85 from: Spain
May 07, 2014 2:09 AM
I wish the world had more people like them. There's a disturbing lack of humanity , and that's really sad. Congrats for this couple, i'm sure they're doing a great job.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs