At least 100 million Africans are estimated to have the post-traumatic stress disorder caused by wars, terror attacks, natural disasters, sexual abuse and chronic violence. In countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and South Sudan, as much as half of the population may suffer from PTSD.
In a one-hour special devoted to the topic, Voice of America’s Shaka Ssali discussed the causes, effects and most effective treatments of the disorder with a panel of experts.
Transcendental Meditation a ’rocket booster’ for healing
There are several approaches to treating PTSD, from medications to cognitive therapy. Based on recent trials and research, the Transcendental Meditation technique seems to be one of the most efficient and cost-effective methods available.
“As a psychologist, I would love to see my patients become asymptomatic in 30 days!” says Dr David F. O’Connell, referring to a study with Congolese war refugees who learned TM to reduce symptoms of severe PTSD.
“TM is therapeutic, but it’s not a therapy. It’s extremely helpful by itself; and when it’s combined with traditional therapeutic approaches, TM is like a rocket booster. Most therapists would just like to see their patients feel better, but with this technique, you get much more than that.
“I’ve seen it with my patients: every one of my patients who has learned TM for PTSD moves at lightning speed from pathology to a state of well-being and happiness,“ says Dr O’Connell.
“Research has shown that TM gives the nervous system a very deep rest,” Dr Solomon Mwangi, a psychiatrist working for Kenya PTSD Relief Project, agrees.
“It thereby reduces stress more than any other technique. In Kenya, we have seen in the last few years that it is the most effective method of reducing PTSD and helping the people to establish a normal state of mind again.”
Direct consequences for the entire continent
The considerations of efficiency are especially critical in a context of Africa where millions of people need immediate help, yet governments are severely constricted by resources and a lack of skilled mental health professionals.
“We should pick the most effective approaches available to save money and time, and to help as many people as possible,” says David Shapiro, President of African PTSD Relief.
Simply by its sheer scale and severity, the epidemic of PTSD in Africa can determine the fate of whole social structures.
“PTSD blocks the education process, it blocks the creativity, it blocks family relationships… When you spend 100-150 dollars – that is all it takes to help a person by teaching him or her the TM technique – you will have people able to study better, run their own businesses, and live a happy life,” emphasizes Shapiro.
WATCH THE VOA SPECIAL ON PTSD IN AFRICA: Straight Talk Africa broadcast on July 1, 2015
What it means to live with PTSD: Symptoms and implications
Post-traumatic stress disorder can lead to a number of symptoms, including repeated and painful recollections of a traumatic event; feeling withdrawn, depressed and separate from others; an inability to sleep and being hyper-alert.
“People living with the disorder can become socially estranged and isolated. Their nervous systems are simply over-aroused,“ explains Dr O’Connell.
And that oversensitivity is a dangerously explosive situation – for everyone involved.
“In the new diagnosis manual, there’s a new component added to the list of PTSD symptoms: aggressiveness. People with the disorder often become agitated, irritable. For example, the sudden sound of a car back-firing can cause an internal flashback, a memory of the tragic event – and this can lead to outbursts of anger.“
In a continent where 18 countries have been ravaged by war and terrorism during the past 25 years, the path leading away from fear and violence starts with healing the wounds of each suffering individual.