The psychological consequences of hostilities for child soldiers are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. Ex-child soldiers in Sierra Leone had chronic psychological disturbances like grief associated with their exposure to atrocities, repeated and disturbing thoughts, and nightmares (Christie, 2011). The number of child soldiers experiencing medically severe PTSD is significantly high. The form of exposure to violence can greatly influence the psychological condition of a child and subsequent reintegration into society. Involvement in severe forms of violence like sexual abuse, killing, or maiming was greater predictors of PTSD, aggression, anxiety, and depression than being a victim or a witness of atrocities (Healy & Link, 2012).
Moreover, according to Christie (2011), more severe PTSD symptoms in ex-child combatants were related to higher resistance to reintegration and a greater desire for vengeance. The National Institute of Mental Health defines PTSD as an “ anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened” (Christie, 2011, p. 88). A child combatant from Sierra Leone, Ishmael Beah, describes his experience with PTSD: “ I had a dream that. ..
a gunman stood on top of me. He placed his gun on my forehead. I immediately woke up. .. and began shooting inside the tent, until the thirty rounds in the magazine were finished. .. I was sweating, and they. .. gave me a few more of the white capsules” (Christie, 2011, p. 88). Ishmael’ s anxieties and fears reveal the continuous presence of the unseen injuries of armed conflict and the importance of healing. Another mental health disorder diagnosed in numerous child soldiers, particularly in Sierra Leone, is depression.
Returning child soldiers diagnosed with depression have expressed feelings of unworthiness, meaninglessness, and regret. Several researchers said that depression, humiliation, and remorse may, in fact, be favourable indicators— a key psychological shift to civilian life (Healy & Link, 2012).
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