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Post-traumatic stress symptoms among former child soldiers in Sierra Leone: follow-up study

  • Theresa S. Betancourt (a1), Elizabeth A. Newnham (a2), Ryan McBain (a1) and Robert T. Brennan (a3)
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.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
Dr Theresa S. Betancourt, Department of Global Health and Population/François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard School of Public Health, 651 Huntington Avenue, 7th floor, Boston, MA 02115, USA. Email: Theresa_Betancourt@harvard.edu
Footnotes
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See editorial, pp. 165–167, this issue.

Declaration of interest

None.

Footnotes
References
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Post-traumatic stress symptoms among former child soldiers in Sierra Leone: follow-up study

  • Theresa S. Betancourt (a1), Elizabeth A. Newnham (a2), Ryan McBain (a1) and Robert T. Brennan (a3)
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