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As children continue to be exploited by armed groups all over the world, special mental health interventions for child soldiers are ever more necessary.
There is, however, a paucity of research that is dedicated to studying the mental health of child soldiers in armed conflicts. For several reasons, civilian children are more accessible than child soldiers.
Kohrt Emory University, Atlanta and colleagues set out to determine the mental health effects of both child soldiers and children who were never forced into military service.
The sample consisted of former child soldiers and never-conscripted children in Nepal between March and April The children were matched on age, sex, education, and ethnicity, and all participants experienced at least 1 type of trauma.
The former child soldiers were between 5 and 16 years old at time of conscription, and the average age of study participants was about Kohrt and colleagues found that 75 of the child soldiers Statistically adjusting for traumatic exposures and other possibly confounding variables held that being a child soldier was significantly associated with depression and PTSD among girls 2.
However, there was no statistical association between being a child soldier and general psychological difficulties, anxiety, or function impairment. The authors note that, "The difference in mental health outcomes between child soldiers and never-conscripted children can be explained in part by greater exposure to traumatic events among child soldiers, especially for general psychological difficulties and function impairment.
First, the greater burden of mental health problems among former child soldiers supports the need for focused programming, which should include, but not consist solely of, interventions to reduce depression symptoms and the psychological sequelae of trauma, especially bombings and torture, as well as incorporate belongingness and income generation.
Second, girl soldiers may require focused attention, possibly for factors not addressed in this study, such as problems of sexual violence and reintegration difficulties. Third, the variation in type and severity of mental health problems highlights the importance of screening, including locally developed measures of function impairment, as a base for intervention," suggest the researchers.
Finally, the presence of mental health problems among never-conscripted children illustrates the need for comprehensive postconflict community-based psychosocial care not restricted only to child soldiers.
Kohrt, MA; Mark J. Jordans, MA; Wietse A. Tol, MA; Rebecca A. Speckman, BA; Sujen M. Maharjan, BA; Carol M. Worthman, PhD; Ivan H. Peter M Crosta Related coverage.This course is designed for physicians, nurses, social workers, psychologists, therapists, mental health counselors, and other members of the interdisciplinary team who may intervene in suspected cases of human trafficking and/or exploitation.
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