London, April 1 : A new research has determined that the health effects of war are not limited to battlefield injuries, and are also bound to exact a heavy toll on civilian mental health.
According to a report in New Scientist, the research involved the survey of nearly 3,000 Lebanese civilians to measure the effects of war on the prevalence of mental illness.
Though it is a well-known fact that war can leave its mark on soldiers in the form of mental disorders that may take months or years to become apparent, few studies have looked into wars effects on the civilian population.
Now, Elie Karam of the Institute for Development, Research, Advocacy, and Applied Care in Beirut, Lebanon, and colleagues, surveyed 2857 Lebanese adults with a standardised questionnaire to measure the incidence and age of onset of any mental disorders.
The effects of exposure to war were pronounced.
Seventy per cent of the respondents suggested they had been exposed to traumatic events related to the country's ongoing conflict, such as being in a war zone or being a refugee.
Those exposed to war events were six times more likely to have an anxiety disorder than those who had not, three times more likely to have a mood disorder, and 13 times more likely to have an impulse-control disorder.
The team also found that only one in four Lebanese people experience a mental disorder at some stage in their lives - in line with the proportion found in the developed world.
That low number could be due to poor diagnosis, however, as less than half of the survey respondents sought any treatment for their disorders, and those who did took an average of six years to do so.
Even given these caveats, the incidence of mental disorder might be expected to be higher in a country that has seen decades of war.
According to study co-author Somnath Chatterji of the World Health Organization, both cultural stigma about mental disorders and a dearth of professionals contribute to the prevalence of disorders and the delay in treatment.
"Although the overall number of physicians in Lebanon is high, the availability of mental health services is quite limited," he said.
The solution, he suggested, is first to educate both the populace and the policymakers about mental disorders.
"The first thing is to make the case that mental health is part of overall health, and to show that there exist effective interventions for these disorders," said Chatterji.