Adolescent understandings of political violence and psychological well-being: a qualitative study from Bosnia Herzegovina

The Harvard Trauma Questionnaire and Hopkins Symptoms Checklist (HSCL-25) were given to 337 13–15 year olds who had lived through the recent war in Bosnia Herzegovina, on opposite sides of the conflict. A gender-balanced sub- sample of 40 adolescents was selected on the basis of their combined symptom scores, including equal numbers of high and low scorers from each side. A year of participant observation in two cities and in-depth interviews were conducted with the sub-sample to explore their understandings of the war and their subjective perceptions of their psychological well-being.
Casestudiesarepresentedtoshowthatthedegreetowhichanadolescentengagedinasearchformeaningtothe conflict is related to their psychological well-being. Searching for meaning did not appear to be protective. Less well adolescents in both cities were more engaged in searching for meaning. Well adolescents appeared to be more disengaged. Searching for meaning appeared to be associated with sensitivity to the political environment, and feelings of insecurity about the prospect of a future war. The particular local context had an important effect in mediating the manner in which disengagement and engagement occurred.
These findings suggest that the more avoidant methods of coping with political violence warrant further investigation. Political engagement may be protective in low-level conflicts where there is a possibility for action. When there is little opportunity for active engagement, the search for meaning has a different effect. Adolescents engaged in the search for meaning recognise that their recovery is bound up with the recovery of their communities as a whole. Assistance and support may have to address the material, social and political difficulties that the search uncovers.

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