[War] strips us of the later accretions of civilization, and lays bare the primal man in each of us. It compels us once more to be heroes who cannot believe in their own death; it stamps strangers as enemies, whose death is to be brought about or desired; it tells us to disregard the death of those we love.
Sigmund Freud, 1915
In recent years, conversations about wars, and rumors of war, have increased exponentially. The water cooler conversations are no longer saturated with dialogue about the latest game, family or friends, rather they are conversations that involve discussions of war and the probability of war. As a global community, we are no longer sheltered by the convenience of being off in the distance, rather we receive our news instantaneously. We receive such egregious messages and are expected to digest them in the same breath. We are well aware that our ideological perspectives vary drastically from one corner of the world to the next. We have leaders who are pro-war and pro-armament; then there are the leaders who are antiwar and advocate against such drastic actions. The psychological ramifications of these conversations have been taking a noticeable toll on our society. As a society, it is difficult to avoid conversations about war, warmongering, antiwar and the very real possibility, that our children may one day become involved in such an unfavourable conflict.
What is it that drives war? Obviously, there are a variety of reasons and rationales behind a country entering war. Wars are seldom fought over insignificant issues, but most commonly occur because of geopolitical and religious ideological perspectives. Ironically, you seldom hear of wars being fought to defend race, sex, gender or economic hardships of the downtrodden. For the majority of wars, they are often fought over political, economic, and religious ideologies.
As a global community, we have become immersed with the 24 hour news cycle. As such, war is ticking away every moment of the day. War is on the minds and hearts of nearly every person that you encounter. Whether they are pro-war or antiwar, the psychological ramifications of being so deeply entrenched has had a dire effect on the mental health and wellbeing of our society.
In the 1945 Charter of the United Nations, there were decrees and resolutions drafted declaring what justifies a declaration of war. The UN was desperate to create measures to prevent future catalysts of hate and tyrants from ruling countries in the future. The UN had created a number of guidelines divulging what they consider appropriate and inappropriate in a time of armed conflicts. Most of all, they were concerned about protecting the wellbeing and health of all global citizens.
Undoubtedly, the effect of war has a way of fracturing the very fabric of our collective mental health. When there is war, we all suffer. War knows no victors and has no allies. Yet, there are times that war must proceed and conflicts must escalate.
The impact of war on mental health has only begun to be fully understood. War does not only impact the soldiers and those leading such operations, but it has an ability of vicariously impacting the mental health of all who are directly and indirectly associated with the war. Notably, you may not be even living in a war torn country to be affected. Research has shown that the more media that you consume of a war or a hostile action, the greater the likelihood that you will be severely impacted. The vicarious implications may creep up on you subtly, but the long-term effects have a way of mimicking firsthand experiences.
According to the World Health Organization, the United Nations has suggested that “there are more people living with mental disorders in areas affected by conflict than we previously thought – many more. One person in five is living with some form of mental disorder, from mild depression or anxiety to psychosis. Worse, almost 1 in 10 is living with a moderate or severe mental disorder” (World Health Organization, 2023). For far too long, a shadow has been cast over the egregious affects of war. For those directly and indirectly impacted, war has a way of injecting itself into the lives of its victims. The physiological and psychological repercussions of war should always be considered when entering a conflict.
The implications of war on soldiers has been well-documented since the early 1900’s, but the implications on the noncombatants and civilians has been lackluster. We know that war has a way of severely impacting an individual’s sense of self. The cognitive implications are indisputable. The physical ramifications are incomprehensible. Furthermore, it has been well-documented that soldiers are traumatically effected by a number of variables, including: witnessing friends and comrades being killed; the death of noncombatants and civilians; and witnessing an enemy combatant being killed. As soldiers, you are not only witnessing wartime casualties, but there is extensive research that proves you will be impacted by what you have witnessed for years to come. Furthermore, research has clearly indicated that the health implications for a soldier are often masked by their own ideological perspectives of the job. Similar to first responders, soldiers have a difficult time expressing a need to be helped. For many, it is a sign of weakness and many refrain from expressing their personal vulnerability. For others, they may fear losing out on a promotion, if something is placed on their military record.
As a society, we must remember that war knows no allies. We seldom consider the outlying implications of war, but these implications have a direct bearing on an individual’s ability to thrive and survive. When a country has endured a war, the ramifications last long beyond the final battle. The economic repercussions alone can cripple a nation. The evidence is clear, when a country that has endured a war, the ramifications trickle down to those who are most vulnerable.
The most vulnerable are seldom considered when the rumblings of war occur. According to the National Institutes of Health, “The direct correlation between the degree of trauma and the amount of the psychological problems is consistent across a number of studies. The greater the exposure to trauma – both physical and psychological – the more pronounced are the symptoms.” Psychologically, trauma leaves an impression upon the mind and physiological makeup of each person it encounters. Regardless of one’s age or intellectual quotient, we know that the ramifications of being exposed to a traumatic event can leave a deep and lasting impression.
There is consistent evidence that indicates that those involved in a conflict can improve. The implications of war does not have to be the endgame for an individual. Whether you are, or you have served as a soldier, there is hope on your horizon. Moreover, studies have indicated that those who are, or were, victims of war are capable of minimizing the consequences of trauma. The truth is, the greatest obstacle in minimizing the effect of exposure is the lag time between the event and the care. Please do not avoid asking for help. The immediacy of care is of the utmost importance. There are a variety of treatment interventions that are capable of helping individuals recover from a traumatic experience. Please do not delay seeking advice or care.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA