Poverty & PTSD: Children Born Into a War Zone

Posted by on Mar 25, 2014 in Poverty | Comments Off on Poverty & PTSD: Children Born Into a War Zone

programs20130531100800217It is said that children who are born into poverty and those who are born into a war zone are both prone to developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Now, why would anyone want to make such a claim? Well, it is not a claim, but more of an actual fact despite the differing circumstances of their living conditions.

Yes, children who are born into poverty may live differently from those who were born into a war zone. Their living conditions are so much in stark contrast to each other that it is somewhat crazy to conclude that they both can develop PTSD. For example, a child living in poverty can still walk safely to school whereas a child who was brought up in a war zone may fear going outside because of the inherent danger that war poses.

It’s because those who are living in poverty do not always need to be living in really poor neighborhoods. There are varied classifications of poverty, and sometimes it is more of a financial situation rather than a situational one.

A child who is brought up in a war zone experiences the threat of death and destruction each and every day. They are in constant lookout when the next fight is going to erupt, and merely being at home won’t even keep them safe because disaster could easily spill into the comforts of their own dwelling. They are constantly exposed to the sounds of gunfire, screams, and are also exposed to the smell of death each and every day.

As you can see, the picture painted shows that they very much differ, but both are very much prone to develop PTSD. You might think that those in the war zone may be greatly affected because war in itself is quite traumatic. But living in poverty, especially generational poverty, has ways of affecting your way of thinking and being that will lead you on the path towards PTSD as well.


The basics of PTSD

What’s the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear that someone is suffering from PTSD? Do you visualize them having been abused? Do you imagine them having been involved in some terrible accident? Do you think about them as a victim of a violent crime?

More often than not, the situations above are the ideas that would form in your head when you’re informed that a person is suffering from PTSD. However, that is not always the case. Those who have PTSD are not always victims of rape, domestic abuse, car accidents, and other “single blow” traumas. In fact, PTSD can be associated with long-term exposure to “chronic traumas” such as childhood abuse, living in a high crime area, experiencing domestic abuse, and yes, living in extreme poverty.

Trauma is a subjective experience when talking in the context of PTSD. It is an event in which a person feels cognitively, emotionally, or physically overwhelmed. In fact, an event can be traumatizing for one person but have no effect on the other. There are also cases when just hearing about traumatic events that happened to another person is enough to cause PTSD.

Think about it this way: when you are in danger, it is a very natural to feel afraid about what will happen. This kind of fear triggers a lot of split-second changes in your body to prepare it to defend against the danger it is about to face. Or, in other cases, your body changes so that you are prepared to avoid any sort of danger. It is a “fight-or-flight” response and is a very healthy reaction by the body so that you remain protected from harm.

However, in the case of having PTSD, this kind of reaction is changed or damaged. Those who are suffering from PTSD may be the person who is harmed, or the harm was done to someone they love, or the person was a witness to a harmful event that happened to a loved one or even a stranger.

You would most likely hear PTSD associated with war veterans, but rest assured it is a phenomenon that can result from a variety of traumatic incidents as well. Victims of mugging, rape, or torture are prone to experience PTSD. Not only that, those who have experienced being kidnapped or held captive, child abuse, car accidents, train wrecks, plane crashes, and bombings can all develop PTSD. Furthermore, even victims of natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes are prone to develop PTSD.


Living in poverty

 What does “living in poverty” really mean? Some would define it as the lack of financial resources to support a standard of living. Examples that would fall into this category include not being able to buy a supply of food for your family, not being able to provide for the purchase of vitamins you and your kids desperately need, or not being able to have enough money to buy a certain standard of housing. Basically, this kind of definition refers to not having enough for the basic standards of living.

Others would define poverty as a social condition. One good example of this would be to look back at the past. For instance, many years ago, a man would be ashamed to walk out in public without having a decent shirt put on. In other words, poverty as a social condition is not having enough money to buy what society expects you to have. For example, if you live in an affluent neighborhood but your family doesn’t own a car and you commute to school, others might perceive you as poor because you don’t own what most of your community owns.

Some would also define poverty as the impact of prolonged unemployment. Let’s just say you graduated during a recession, meaning you couldn’t secure a job that actually related to your profession. What this means is you have to search for other job opportunities so far out from what you majored in just so you could put food on the table, pay rent, and pay bills. Then when the economy seems better, you find it hard to secure a job related to what you studied because you don’t have the needed experience in that particular field.

There are also times when employers just stay stuck looking at the number of months or years you’ve been unemployed rather than your experience as a whole. They will pass you over even if you have all the skills that is needed for the job because you have not been in the work force for quite some time.


Living in a war zone

634704611697280125-iraq-children-of-war-seriesWhat are the living conditions of people in a war zone? If you are the type to watch the news on TV, listen to the radio for current events, or even read up about what’s going on in the world on the internet, you already have a vague idea of what the situation is like in war-torn nations.

One of the most common themes that exist is that violence is everywhere. Not a day would probably go by where a death isn’t reported. In other words, those who live in a war zone have a very high chance of being casualties of war. A better term for this would be the innocent victims of a war they didn’t ask for.

Everyday, there is always the chance that you feel loss and death. What’s worse, you even have not recovered from mourning the previous day and suddenly another atrocity happens. In short, living in a war zone is a constant struggle with emotions and pain that would surely leave a dent on any person, young or old.

Those who are living in a war zone are constantly thinking about ways to leave, but just couldn’t find a way to do so. Their everyday thoughts are filled with what it would be like to live in a better world so that future generations would not have to suffer. However, all these positive thinking will be promptly interrupted because there would a gun fired here or a grenade exploding there. In other words, people living in a war zone, are in constant fear for their life.

What’s even tougher is that they have to live through it as if it’s just a normal way of life. They still have to go about what they do, but with an added fear that anything can happen once they step outside. It is a daily reality for them, especially if they live in a not-so-affluent part of a war torn country. Yes, the rich can be affected by having war in their country, but they do have more privileges compared to those who live in poor conditions.


The connection between poverty and PTSD with children born into a war zone

As you may have noticed, there is a definite contrast between children who were born into poverty and those who were born into a war zone. But despite that, their situation is analogous to each other because both of them have not lived a normal life. Yes, a child from a poor family can still walk safely to school but he doesn’t have the things that his other classmates have. A child from a war zone may still go to school but is surrounded by death when he steps outside his door.

All of these traumatic experiences can build up and turn into early warning signs for PTSD. As mentioned earlier, merely being a witness to a traumatic event is enough to trigger PTSD. This being said, children born into war zones also have the tendency to exhibit violence later on in life just like a child in a poor household who is constantly witness to domestic abuse.

What’s even worse, children who live in a war zone may also take a different path in life like taking up arms and joining in a fight. It’s a sad reality, but it’s one that is not unheard of.


Studies on living in a war zone and PTSD

A couple of studies have been made into the connection between PTSD and children living in a war zone. One of this was published in the Journal of Muslim Mental Health which looked into schoolchildren from the Hebron area. The students were asked to complete the Child Post Traumatic Stress Reaction Index as well as the Gaza Traumatic Event Checklist. The results showed that 77.4% of children living in Hebron showed symptoms of moderate-to-severe PTSD while 20.5% met the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for chronic PTSD. It clearly showed that the traumatic events of war were the culprit in the development of PTSD in children, and that they needed help to get through it.

Another study that was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry also looked into the effects of war on the behavior and emotional well-being of pre-school children. The study involved children between the ages of 3-6 years were selected in the Gaza Strip and were assessed using the Gaza Traumatic Checklist, Behavior Checklist, and the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. The results showed that pre-school children were exposed to a wide range of traumatic events, and these were closely associated with behavioral and emotional problems in the children.


Parting thoughts

 There is a clear connection between PTSD and children born into a war zone. It even affects part f their being, both physically and mentally. To illustrate that further, there is a part of the brain called the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex (vmPFC) which is responsible for regulating stress levels. However, when it is compromised – such is the case with PTSD – this region shuts down and ceases to become an effective component in stress management. And the prevention of this is the primary goal here at Helping Ourselves Win (HOW).

We strive to eliminate generational poverty through the teaching of young children about how to empower, educate, and train their brains into thinking like entrepreneurs and agents for social change.