Mental Health and War

Հոգեկան առողջություն
Mental Health Day is celebrated annually on October 10. 
It is held by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to raise public awareness of mental health issues. 
The article is published to remind of mental health and underline its importance in war situations.


  • What is mental health?
  • Why is it important?
  • War and mental health
  • How do you know whether you have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
  • How to overcome psychological problems caused by war?

What is mental health?

Mental health is defined as the state of an individual’s psychological well-being. An individual is able to effectively realise his personal potential, to cope with daily stresses, to work productively, as well as to have his own contribution in public life. A mentally healthy individual seeks to balance and develop all sides of his self – physical, mental, cognitive, emotional and behavioural. Mental health is important in all stages of life; from childhood to adolescence and adulthood.

 There are several factors that contribute to mental health problems:

  • Biological factors, such as brain structure, genetic factor
  • Life experiences, traumas
  • Family stories  or problems related to mental health 

Why is it important?

Mental health is important as it forms an inseparable part of daily life, it directly affects our thoughts, as well as our behaviour and emotions. Being mentally healthy helps to work, study and fulfil any activity productively. It plays a very important role in our life, helps to establish strong relationships, to adapt to life changes, and to overcome obstacles and difficulties.

War and mental health

War has a catastrophic effect on the health and well being of nations. Studies have shown that conflict situations cause more death and disability than any other “major” disease. War slowly destroys communities and families and often disrupts the development of social and economic structure of nations. The effects of war include long-term physical and psychological harm to children and adults, as well as  reduction in material and human capital.

Death as a result of war is merely the “top of the iceberg”. Unfortunately, other consequences, besides death, are not well documented. They include, for example, poverty, malnutrition, disability, economic/social decline, psychiatric illness, etc. Only through in-depth research of conflicts and the mental issues that arise from them coherent and effective strategies for solving such problems can be developed.

The aforementioned type of psychological disorder is commonly referred to as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is considered to be a disease conditioned by both genetic and environmental factors, which belongs to the category of severe mental illness of depression and anxiety with a chronic course. It is often called “fright disease” as it develops in people having been in traumatic emergencies (including  war) that threaten life and health and cause intense fear and horror, in other words, as a result of psychological trauma.

The World Health Assembly conducted research in 2005 according to which the 10% of people living in traumatic situations caused by armed conflicts throughout the world have serious mental health problems, another 10% develops behaviour that might hinder their effective functioning. The major conditions are depression, anxiety and psychosomatic issues such as insomnia or aches in back and stomach.

How do you know whether you have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

If you have any of the following symptoms then you probably have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:

  • Sleep disorder and nightmares connected with a past traumatic event,
  • Continuous reliving of a traumatic event when the patient suffering from PTSD constantly remembers and relives the past traumatic event. Intense fear and a feeling of helplessness and horror emerges, that the patient has already experienced during the traumatic event.
  • Avoidance behaviour or escape, when the patient constantly avoids places, situations and objects reminding of traumatic events. There is a noticeable decline in the patient’s emotional status  which is expressed in indifference and numbness towards people and events, loss of speech due to which the patient alienates and isolates himself from the environment.
  • Overexertion and overstimulation which are manifested by the fact that the patient is always in a state of trepidation or mental exertion. Patients have difficulties with concentration and relaxation. They become oversensitive to loud noises and bright light.

How to overcome psychological problems caused by  war?

Wars, car accidents and plane crashes, severe illness and deaths in the family, infectious diseases and other similar events cause widespread panic, trepidation, fear, stress, and sometimes depression among the population.

If the psychosomatic disorders are noticed one or several months after the event, the phenomenon turns into a disease called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTDS).

In general,  relatives and friends can help such people. However, most of the work should be done by the person that has such symptoms.

What to do?

1) Move!

Doing active exercises in nature, outdoor places such as hiking, bicycle races, rock climbing, water rafting and skiing help to challenge your feeling of vulnerability and return to social life.

2) Self-regulate your nervous system!

2.1. “Mindful” breathing. To quickly calm down in any situation, simply take 60 breaths, focusing your attention on each ‘out’ breath. Meditation is also a great solution.

2.2. “Sensory input”. When loud noises, clutter, people’s clothes or simple objects remind you of past events, just look at pleasant pictures, listen to your favourite songs or something like that. Just try to replace unpleasant feelings with pleasant ones.

2.3. “Reconnect emotionally”. Surely, it is very natural when a person wants to avoid remembering or reliving things that he has gone through. But the problem is that avoiding those memories does not make them go away. Usually, when a person tries to suppress or forget those memories, the latter’s thoughts, images and sometimes dreams can become an obstacle. The only way to overcome this and move on is to reconnect to what you feel. A solution can be the creation of a “safe place”. For example, a room painted in your favourite colours and full of objects and images that evoke positive and pleasant emotions. Remembering unpleasant emotions in this safe and comfortable place you can make emotional reconnections and turn them into neutral or ordinary feelings that would not prevent you from living.

3) Communication with people. It is important to find people who are able to listen, discuss and provide psychological support. Such people can be your relatives and friends.

4) Overcome the complex of what you experienced. Just ask yourself how and why you were able to overcome and survive that accident or war. Realise your strengths and resign yourself to the idea that you are not guilty. Appreciate the chance given to you and move on.

As for specialists, they treat the disorder combining psychotherapy and medication; tranquilisers, antidepressants, relaxing herbs. Sometimes  drug addiction is caused that is why psychotherapy (individual and group) is much more effective. It helps to recover mental processes; perception, memory, concentration, thinking, imagination. By identifying the factors that cause patients to panic, the psychotherapist minimises their sensitivity to them, as well as helps to master self-management methods. In such cases, group psychotherapy is more effective during which they work with several conservatees (patients) with similar problems. In this case, besides the psychotherapist, the participants also help each other. It helps to overcome the feeling of loneliness, alienation from society, and a new view towards life and surrounding people and a positive attitude towards themselves are formed.


Author: Ruzanna Hovhannisyan © All rights reserved.

Translator: Mariam Antikian.