December 6, 2022

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Genocide-related trauma on increase among men – expert

Every year, April 7 marks the beginning of 100 days of remembering and honoring more than a million lives that were claimed during the Genocide, leaving survivors with trauma to deal with, among other unbearable difficulties.

Since last week, Rwandans both in the country and those abroad have been undertaking a number of activities geared at commemorating for the 28th time, the Genocide against the Tutsi.

Such period leads to an increase in cases of trauma mainly among survivors of the Genocide.

Information from Rwanda Biomedical Centre shows that about 28 per cent of survivors live with chronic trauma.

The 2018 Rwanda Mental Health Survey (RMHS) revealed the major depressive episode to be the most common mental disorder among genocide survivors at 35 per cent, followed by post-traumatic stress disorder (27.9 per cent), panic attack (26.8 percent), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (11.6 percent).

The New Times’ Alice Kagina discussed with Emilienne Mukansoro, a Psychotherapist at Never Again Rwanda, about Genocide-related trauma and the healing process over the past 28 years.

Excerpts

As someone who has been providing mental health support to survivors, what is your evaluation of Genocide-related trauma now compared to say five years ago?

Genocide-related trauma did not decrease instead, it changed form and got more complicated than in the last five years. There are those that were able to get help and changed their lives for the better but there are also those that didn’t get a chance to meet the psychotherapy and over time they changed in terms of their actions and approach to life.

For instance, generally, Genocide survivors seem to be slow in development when compared to others, even after they’ve received some financial push because someone who is burdened cannot run at the same pace as someone who is not.

Moreover, many of them are now in their old age where they have no one to provide the needed support and care, and it’s in that time that memories of their lost ones come back and wounds become afresh again.

You cannot say that the level of trauma is dropping when a bigger number of hospitalized patients with mental health condition are survivors.

Which category of people do you most diagnose with this kind of trauma?

In the past years, majority of patients used to be women. But now, evidences show a greater number of men and young boys who are diagnosed with trauma.

This is because it generally takes more time for men to show symptoms of trauma. While women were able to express their emotions in the first post-genocide years with fresh wounds, men kept it all inside of themselves.

Over time, they are no longer able to hide it and it finally erupts externally.

Generally, trauma is seen across all categories of people depending on their age, their location (urban or rural areas) but what was unusual is the turnaround of a bigger number of men who are now diagnosed with it.

What are some of the major triggering factors for trauma?

Most of the time is the change in livelihoods that triggers the surfacing of symptoms of trauma. A recent example of Covid-19 shook a lot of people’s lives pushing them to think that they would have had it otherwise if they still had their family members who died.

For example, children whose school fees were paid by FARG and got a bursary for university studies, when they don’t find a job after school, they are drawn back to remembering that they no longer have a family as they encounter life difficulties.

It is at that moment when symptoms of trauma manifest while before they were hidden.

What is your take on trans-generational trauma?

It should be an issue of concern to everyone because if nothing is done, we will have a society of youth with symptoms of trauma derived from their relatives.

More efforts should be invested in equipping the family with strength and knowledge of being able to discuss with children the truth of our history, according to their level of understanding and maturity without overwhelming them but also not with lies.

It’s a complex situation where parents fail to interpret what happened to their children and children grow up with emptiness because they feared to ask what happened.

For example, how easy is it for a mother to tell her child that he or she was born out of rape? Or what kind of hatred would develop in children who are told that the reason they don’t see their father is that he was sentenced to prison because a certain family accused him of Genocide.

So, there is no level at which a child should be told lies, but they must be told the truth in accordance with their capacity of understanding.

These rising cases of suicide among the youth should challenge families to question what is taking place in our society. Children are carrying loads of family issues without anyone to talk to and when they break down, everyone interprets it the way they want.

It is a challenge for families to provide maximum support and protection to these young ones to not reach a level of taking their own lives.

How has been the healing process and what more can be done?

Different initiatives to help people in the healing process were put in place but I will be honest even if am one of those that provide support to them, there are still gaps we haven’t reached yet.

For instance, we sometimes reach out to one group per sector during our healing programs and it is evident that they are not the only ones who need help, or sometimes when we train some of them to assist others, it is still not efficient because these people are not yet fully healed as well.

A person is supposed to be helped psychologically, financially, and economically so that it all contributes to the wholesome healing they need.

Even on the perpetrators’ side, there should be a two-sided approach to their re-integration into society, just as they are trained on how to integrate back into the society after they have served their sentence, the society should also be prepared to receive them, hence giving them a place in contributing to the development of the country.

It is now that we, at Never Again Rwanda are starting. We have taken our programmes to the village level but we have to make it as narrow as possible to provide these services from house to house to reach even that one person who might still be in denial that they need help.

People need to understand that mental health conditions should be treated just like any other disease. The government should also include such services among those that are covered by Mutuelle de Sante to facilitate everyone in their capacity.

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