WASHINGTON U.-ST. LOUIS (US) — In Afghanistan, poverty and vulnerability have a bigger impact on mental health than war does, a new study finds.
With the United States and affiliated NATO troops preparing to pull out of war-torn Afghanistan by the end of 2014, attention will continue to focus on the 12-year war and the aftermath on its citizens.
“War exposure is undisputedly a factor of mental distress and anxiety, but other predictors, such as poverty and vulnerability, are stronger and probably more persistent risk factors that have not received deserved attention in policy decisions,” says Jean-Francois Trani, assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Political unrest and violence is fueled by despair and frustrations often associated with mental distress,” Trani says. “A lack of resources or inability to find work make it impossible to assume one’s social status. That, in turn, leads to distress that can conduct to young men choosing a path of violent opposition to authorities and an international presence.”
The study, published in Transcultural Psychiatry, shows that even in a time of war, mental health is influenced by a combination of demographic and socioeconomic characteristics linked to social exclusion mechanisms—factors that were in place before war began.
“The conflict magnifies factors that were already in place,” Trani says, “and are redefined in relation to the changing social, cultural and economic contexts.”
With limited resources, policy makers need to prioritize and target the needs of social groups that have multiple vulnerabilities.
“Our study shows these groups are less resilient and more at risk of mental health distress and disorders,” Trani says. “Genuinely addressing their needs can only help build a more stable and prosperous Afghanistan.”
“When reconstruction projects or humanitarian efforts come in, do all benefit, or are some excluded and why?” Trani asks. “What are the factors that explain these inequalities in terms of benefiting from economic or social intelligence? These are the questions that will weigh in on what ‘development’ will entail in everyday lives of Afghans in the coming years.”