2019 - 2020 Modern Volume 12

Legacies of Mental Suffering: How do the responses to war and the COVID-19 crisis emphasise a critical need for further support?

By Elodie Lunniss

Dispirited and down encapsulates how masses of people across the globe are feeling in these distressing times. By the first week of April, over half of the 7.8 billion people that inhabit the earth were under lockdown due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Such an absence of normality and the anxiety surrounding the pandemic disrupted the patterns that many rely on for stability and optimism within their daily lives. Yet, hope also became a prevalent symbol; the hope that the world will get through this and gain strength. Likewise, citizens and participants living through WW1 and WW2 were held together by such a feeling. However, underlying the popular positive mentality and patriotic efforts of these past generations, was also a sense of fear and paranoia. In hindsight, this contributed to substantial long term mental health consequences such as PTSD (post- traumatic stress disorder) and depression. Although the events taking place at hand are considerably different, one can counter the 2005 perspective that “war is terrible and beyond the understanding and experience of most people”. Ultimately, in 2020, humans are living within a time of prominent global mental suffering, drawing significant parallels with that of war. Are our current generations experiencing the equivalent mental consequences of a Third World War? 

Soldiers were key victims of severe mental suffering and torture after war. Images of the perils and violence, witnessed first-hand, proved inescapable for the minds of many. For example, an ex-veteran named Dutch Schultz, who had fought in WW2 for the United States, experienced such heavy psychological wounding that he had held a gun to his head at his lowest point. The war certainly created an overwhelming amount of direct links to depression and mental disorders as soldiers had been put through an ordeal of events that would alter their outlook and behaviour perpetually. Yet this often leads to the changing mentalities of civilians observing the ruination of society from afar to be considered less worthy of attention. Globally, citizens encountered a dispirited and despondent frame of mind due to the second hand effects of war. An abundance of men in the United Kingdom post WW2 were left unemployed as a result of a lesser demand for heavy industry workers, generating a concerning rise in negative mindsets and anxieties. Families who relied on the male source of income were in a constant state of worry of how to provide for basic provisions. Men who were unemployed also felt as if they had no sense of purpose as they were withheld from the ability to contribute to their society and country. Looking beyond the West, studies in numerous countries facing the burden of further warfare post 1945 exhibit the shocking levels of mental health decline prevalent in citizens. In Iraq, where conflict is still ongoing, 54% of children living in areas of bombardment have suffered from severe PTSD. This sets up a future generation still facing troubles from the memories of combat and hostility. 

Mental health in history is often stigmatised as being inflicted by one’s own state of mind and thoughts that are present entirely as a result of personal experience and events. Yet, historical events such as WW1, WW2 and succeeding struggles illustrate how far the minds of individuals can be affected by destruction and forced migration. WW2 led to at least 11 million refugees who no longer had a safe place to call home. The weight of political trauma and military violence that was witnessed amongst refugees in the post-war climate, accentuates the need to provide strong mental health services for those suffering within war zones today, including Yemen, Ethiopia and Kashmir. The dominance of the West in the international arena and within the worldwide media often leads to the marginalisation and oppression of these citizens’ mental health. 

The concept of mental health must be addressed further in order to extend the traditional discourses of war, to one which considers both the personal and emotional consequences that citizens face. The struggles of mental health across the world during the current pandemic should work to shed more light to the much needed, systematic provision of mental health support. The unseen enemy of the virus is obviously a pressing and prominent issue today, however those living through the devastating effects of fighting a physical enemy in war torn zones must come to the forefront of discussion regarding mental health. 


Heading picture – https://becomingsoldiers.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/what-are-the-long-term-effects-of-war-men tal-health-problems-3/ 

● Stephen Mulvey., ‘The Long echo of WW2 trauma’, BBC Stories (2019), https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-48528841, [accessed 28th May 2020]. 

● Sarah Boseley., ‘One in five people in war zones have mental health conditions- WHO’, The Guardian (2019), https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jun/11/war-zones-mental-health-issues-worl d-health-organization-data​ [accessed 28th May 2020]. ● Murthy, R. S., & Lakshminarayana, R., Mental health consequences of war: a brief review of research findings, World psychiatry : Official Journal of the World Psychiatric Association, 5(1), (2006), pp. 25–30, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1472271/​[accessed 28th May 2020].