Mental disorders following war in the Balkans: a study in 5 countries

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010 May;67(5):518-28. doi: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.37.


Context: War experience may affect mental health. However, no community-based study has assessed mental disorders several years after war using consistent random sampling of war-affected people across several Western countries.

Objectives: To assess current prevalence rates of mental disorders in an adult population who were directly exposed to war in the Balkans and who still live in the area of conflict, and to identify factors associated with the occurrence of different types of mental disorders.

Design, setting, and participants: War-affected community samples in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, the Republic of Macedonia, and Serbia were recruited through a random-walk technique.

Main outcome measure: Prevalence rates of mood, anxiety, and substance use disorders were assessed using the Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview.

Results: Between 637 and 727 interviewees were assessed in each country (N = 3313). The prevalence rates were 15.6% to 41.8% for anxiety disorders, 12.1% to 47.6% for mood disorders, and 0.6% to 9.0% for substance use disorders. In multivariable analyses across countries, older age, female sex, having more potentially traumatic experiences during and after the war, and unemployment were associated with higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders. In addition, mood disorders were correlated with lower educational level and having more potentially traumatic experiences before the war. Male sex and not living with a partner were the only factors associated with higher rates of substance use disorders. Most of these associations did not significantly differ among countries.

Conclusions: Several years after the end of the war, the prevalence rates of mental disorders among war-affected people vary across countries but are generally high. War experiences appear to be linked to anxiety and mood disorders but not substance use disorders. Long-term policies to meet the mental health needs of war-affected populations are required.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Croatia
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Mood Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mood Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mood Disorders / psychology
  • Republic of North Macedonia
  • Risk Factors
  • Serbia
  • Sex Factors
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Unemployment / psychology
  • Unemployment / statistics & numerical data
  • Warfare*
  • Young Adult
  • Yugoslavia