It is estimated that, every year, about 526,000 people are killed by armed violence. But, terrible as this figure is, it is just part of a wider picture of harm.
Hundreds of thousands more are left forever marked by the violent events they have suffered or witnessed. Some are injured physically, but an untold number are harmed mentally.
And those that suffer the ugly dreams and dark hallucinations of fear and terror that armed violence brings are all too often ignored.
It is in our nature to focus on the physical. We focus on death counts. We witness the amputations and the blindness wrought by shrapnel and bullets. We see graves and hospital bedsides. But the silent harm of depression and mental trauma is bypassed and overlooked.
The impact of armed violence on mental health
Even though we may overlook it, what we do know, though, is that armed violence has long term and significant mental health consequences to those exposed to it.
The WHO has reported that, in armed conflicts around the world, “10% of the people who experience traumatic events will have serious mental health problems and another 10% will develop behavior that will hinder their ability to function effectively.”
And, around the world, the Exact impact of the mental harm of conflict are wide ranging.
Some studies have found 71% of those impacted by armed violence will suffer negative psychological or emotional effects from it. Others have shown that almost 40% of people surveyed in war-torn Afghanistan suffered from depression. While just under 20% of Kosovar Albanians reported depression after the war.
But one thing confidently stated is this: society’s attempts to address the mental harm of armed violence is too often negligible.
AOAV’s own work in Pakistan highlighted that less than 5% of civilian victims of suicide bombers who survived the blast received any psycho-social care.
So it is clear that much needs to be done. And urgently.
Why is this work urgent?
The violence caused by armed violence can echo down generations. Men harmed by violence may come home and harm their families in turn. In this way, women can become the inadvertent victims of armed violence years after the event.
Research has shown that male military veterans exhibit more violent behaviours than men who have not served. Those who suffer from post-traumatic stress are also more likely to commit violence. We also know that organised violence at a societal level, such as in war, is later often transmitted to violence in the home. Mental trauma from armed violence can often result in divorce. And that suicides of recent conflicts have suggested that combat-related PTSD afflicts between as many as 17% of US Iraq War veterans. There is also extensive proof that young children exposed to armed violence develop an appetite for aggressive behaviour later in life, if their trauma is not addressed.
What can we do to address this?
Despite the devastating impact of armed violence on individual and communities, there are some very effective psychotherapies (such as cognitive therapy) and medication available to address the impact of mental trauma.
AOAV works with communities in Liberia, Western Sahara and Burundi to mitigate the psychological and economic impact of armed violence there, and we research and lobby for victim’s rights back in London.
Our work has had tangible and positive results. Lives have been changed for the better.
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