Collective trauma in the Vanni- a qualitative inquiry into the mental health of the internally displaced due to the civil war in Sri Lanka
Background: From January to May, 2009, a population of 300,000 in the Vanni, northern Sri Lanka underwent multiple displacements, deaths, injuries, deprivation of water, food, medical care and other basic needs caught between the shelling and bombings of the state forces and the LTTE which forcefully recruited men, women and children to fight on the frontlines and held the rest hostage. This study explores the long term psychosocial and mental health consequences of exposure to massive, existential trauma.
Methods: This paper is a qualitative inquiry into the psychosocial situation of the Vanni displaced and their ethnography using narratives and observations obtained through participant observation; in depth interviews; key informant, family and extended family interviews; and focus groups using a prescribed, semi structured open ended questionnaire.
Results: The narratives, drawings, letters and poems as well as data from observations, key informant interviews, extended family and focus group discussions show considerable impact at the family and community. The family and community relationships, networks, processes and structures are destroyed. There develops collective symptoms of despair, passivity, silence, loss of values and ethical mores, amotivation, dependency on external assistance, but also resilience and post-traumatic growth.
Conclusions: Considering the severity of family and community level adverse effects and implication for resettlement, rehabilitation, and development programmes; interventions for healing of memories, psychosocial regeneration of the family and community structures and processes are essential.