The Impact of War on the Mental Health of Children: A Salvadoran Study

Child Abuse Negl. 1997 Aug;21(8):737-49. doi: 10.1016/s0145-2134(97)00035-5.


Objective: This ecologically conceptualized, intensive study assesses the mental health impact of the Salvadoran Civil War on 54 12-year-olds, born into the war, exposed to different levels of war violence.

Methods: Half of the students came from a repopulated country village and half from an industrial neighborhood near the capital city. Children, their mothers or caretakers, and their teachers responded to interviews and some instruments.

Results: Children from the repopulated village reported higher war experience and lower mental health. The personal/social impact of the war was more important than family togetherness or war intensity in determining the mental health of the children. Children's intelligence was highly related to surviving with higher mental health. Higher socioeconomic status (SES) and education of parents was related to better mental health. Controlling for intelligence, children who experienced the highest personal-social impact of war showed the poorest mental health. Children with high war experience were most likely to have difficulty in imagining the future.

Conclusions: Intelligence and the foreshortening of future vision are variables that should be controlled for and investigated in outcome studies of trauma. Treatment for survivors should include aid in planning for the future.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • El Salvador / epidemiology
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Intelligence
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Models, Psychological
  • Regression Analysis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Rural Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Social Environment
  • Social Support
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / etiology
  • Urban Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Warfare*