The British Journal of Psychiatry
Post-traumatic stress symptoms among former child soldiers in Sierra Leone: follow-up study
Theresa S. Betancourt, Elizabeth A. Newnham, Ryan McBain, Robert T. Brennan
  • Declaration of interest

    None.

Abstract

Background

Former child soldiers are at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); however, the trajectory of symptoms has yet to be examined.

Aims

The risk and protective factors associated with PTSD symptom change among former child soldiers in Sierra Leone were investigated.

Method

Data from 243 former child soldiers (mean age 16.6 years, 30% female) were analysed.

Results

Self-reported rates of possible PTSD using standard cut-off points declined from 32% to 16% 4 years later (P<0.05). Symptoms of PTSD at baseline were significantly associated with war experiences (P<0.01) and post-conflict family abuse (P<0.001). Reliable improvement in symptoms was reported by 30%. In growth models examining symptom change, worsening of symptoms was associated with death of a parent (P<0.05) and post-conflict stigma (P<0.001). Protective effects were observed for increases in family acceptance (P<0.001).

Conclusions

The findings indicated improvement in PTSD symptoms among former child soldiers despite limited access to care. Family and community support played a vital part in promoting psychological adjustment.

Footnotes

  • Funding

    We acknowledge support from the US Institutes for Peace, the American Psychological Foundation, the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, grant 1K01MH07724601A2 from the National Institute of Mental Health, grant P60 MD002261 from the National Center for Minority Health and Disparities, and the Displaced Children's and Orphans' Fund of USAID, who helped to fund this work. E.A.N. was supported by a Morgan Stanley Pediatrics Fellowship through the American Australian Association and an Early Career Fellowship through the National Health and Medical Research Council.

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