The association between armed conflict, violence and mental health: a cross sectional study comparing two populations in Cundinamarca department, Colombia

Confl Health. 2012 Dec 17;6(1):12. doi: 10.1186/1752-1505-6-12.


Background: Exposure to violence in general and to armed conflict in particular has been consistently associated with an increased prevalence of mental illness. Colombia has sustained an internal armed conflict for decades and is considered one of the most violent countries in the world. However, certain areas have been more exposed to the conflict than others.

Methods: This is a cross sectional study comparing two communities from different villages in the department of Cundinamarca, Colombia. One, Guasca, was directly impacted by armed conflict. The other one; Guatavita has never been affected by armed conflict. We applied two different instruments: the PHQ scale and a short standardized interview in order to estimate the prevalence of major psychiatric disorders and their link to violent events. Forty-two volunteers from each village were evaluated through a personal interview using these two instruments.

Findings: Of the population surveyed in Guatavita, 2.4% reported direct exposure to violence compared to 23.8% from Guasca. In the population exposed directly to violent events, the prevalence of all disorders was greater than in the non-exposed population with an OR of 1.46 (95% CI 0.3809 - 5.5989) for anxiety; 4.54 (95% CI 1.1098 - 18.5984) for depression; 6.0 (95% CI 1.2298 - 30.2263) for somatization disorder; and 4.4 (95% CI 1.2037 - 16.0842) for alcohol abuse.

Interpretation: There is a statistically significant association between the history of armed conflict, violence and the presence of mental illnesses, particularly depression, somatization disorder and alcohol abuse. Special attention should be paid to the detection, prevention and treatment of these disorders when dealing with populations exposed to violence and to armed conflict in particular.