MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
After more than 36 years of war and still early in the post-conflict phase, Southern Sudan is identifying priority health issues and developing interventions to address them. In the recent past, South Sudan has faced a series of long term war conflict disasters deeply affecting the coping mechanisms of the population and the capacity of the health care system to respond to mental health needs. According to One post-conflict study from Juba the capital city of South Sudan it was found that 36% of the sampled population (n=1,242) met criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and 50% for depression. This study indicates a high prevalence of mental illness in South Sudan as well as the potential for an increase in psychiatric diseases as more refugees and internally displaced persons return home. Over 2 million southern Sudanese are estimated to suffer from mental health problems.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders, affecting 70% of South
Sudanese in a one year period. Women are more likely to develop anxiety than men, but it is not clear why. There are many forms of anxiety disorders, but the one thing they have in common is their impact on day-to-day activities. Anxiety can affect your ability to concentrate, sleep and carry out ordinary tasks at work, home or school.
People with anxiety disorders often feel compelled to avoid stressful situations and in extreme cases avoid going out altogether. Physical symptoms are common, such as shortness of breath, a pounding heart and shaking hands.Anxiety can be caused by one, or a combination of factors. These include genetic factors, ongoing stress, family background, physical health issues, or a traumatic event. By providing your doctor with details of your symptoms, a diagnosis can be made and the appropriate treatment can begin.
People with anxiety disorders may be unable to stop worrying about seemingly unimportant things, and they can perceive situations as much worse than they actually are. It interferes with the enjoyment of life and disrupts work, relationships and self-perceptions. Anxiety disorders are treatable conditions, and learning about them is an important first step.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a type of anxiety disorder that is characterised by uncontrollable worry that impacts on day-to-day life. You could be dealing with GAD if:
- You uncontrollably worry about everything, a lot of the time.
- You’re often tired but can’t sleep properly.
- You constantly feel tense or restless.
- Your heart races or your mouth gets dry.
- All of these things happen most days and have been happening for around for 6 months.
If you’re feeling constantly anxious and worried, the safest way to start dealing with GAD is to talk to a mental health professional. Sometimes with severe anxiety a health professional might advice on medications that can help manage anxiety.
Social anxiety Feeling nervous in some social situations, such as giving a speech at a wedding, is very common. However, for people with social phobia (also called social anxiety disorder), being the centre of attention can cause acute overwhelming anxiety. People with social phobia can feel anxiety and fear even over every day social outings like eating with friends at a restaurant. Social phobia is a fear of social situations including:
- Performance situations such as demonstrating something to colleagues at work something at work.
- Social interactions with friends or strangers such as making small talk with someone you’ve just met.
The standard anxiety symptoms such as excessive sweating, nausea and trembling can be particularly stressful for someone with social phobia as these symptoms reinforce their feelings of embarrassment and fear. Social phobia can have a serious impact on an individual’s personal relationships, career and ability to complete daily tasks.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Fear is a natural and healthy response to a life-threatening event. When people experience or witness danger, the body prepares to take action with the “fight-or-flight” response. The heart rate speeds up, breathing quickens and we feel anxious and ‘pumped’, enabling us to run or combat danger. These feelings of fear normally fade away after the traumatic event. When someone develops post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), fear, anxiety and memories of trauma persist for a long period of time and interfere with their ability to function in life. PTSD is a treatable anxiety disorder affecting around one million people each year.
Traumatic experiences that involve death, serious injury or sexual violence (actual or threatened) can potentially cause PTSD. Such events include physical or sexual assault, living in a war zone, torture, and natural disasters. Everyone responds to trauma differently and although people may experience extreme distress, most eventually recover on their own. It is only a minority of people who develop PTSD after a traumatic event.
The main symptoms of PTSD are:
- Re-experiencing the trauma (memories, nightmares or flashbacks)
- Avoiding reminders of the trauma
- Negative thoughts and mood
- Increased alertness to the environment and physical response to sudden changes that could be a sign of danger.
PTSD can be a chronic and disabling condition that has a devastating impact on individuals, relationships and families. Other conditions may also develop, such as depression or substance abuse. However, with the right support and treatment, recovery is possible.