According to a study children living in war-hit Afghanistan experience a multitude of wartime stressors everyday, which increases their risk of developing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The kids are first-hand witnesses to the bombings, abuse, and the general upheaval of their home life and society as a result of war, including the effects of long-term poverty and familial turmoil.
The study is the first of its kind to address the psychological needs of Afghani children, and is based on clinical interviews with approximately 300 Afghan school children.
Study head Dr. Claudia Catani of the University of Bielefeld said: "The interplay of these stressors contributes to a higher vulnerability in the children frequently exposed to traumatic experiences."
The study revealed that at least half of the children (one in four boys and one in six girls) who had experienced a traumatic life event in this environment were diagnosed with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a life incapacitating mental health disorder.
In addition, almost half of the boys and a third of the girls are expected to work to supplement the family's income, sometimes working heavy labor jobs as carpet weavers for an average of seven hours a day.
The study also showed that girls in this situation were more likely to experience family violence (including the witnessing of spousal abuse). In fact, these stressors have a cumulative effect on girls, which is damaging not only psychologically but also somatically and neurophysiologically.
Catani and her team say that boys were exposed overall to more traumatic life events, and that while developing interventions, it would not be enough to focus just on war experiences.
The treatment also needs to incorporate other stressors and circumstances, including family disturbances and maltreatment, as well as community factors like long-term poverty and child labor.
When all factors are taken into account, these interventions can work to provide a support that is both efficient and sustainable.
Other goals and solutions include better education, immediate mental health interventions and treatment after a violent conflict, and humanitarian assistance for trauma-affected populations in resource-poor countries.
The dramatic numbers of PSTD-diagnosed children in Afghanistan make it more urgent than ever to understand risk factors and consequences of decades of violent conflict, and to develop adequate intervention and prevention strategies.
The study has been published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.