Post-traumatic stress disoder, survivor guilt and substance use - a study of hospitalised Nigerian army veterans

G T Okulate, O B E Jones


Objectives. To investigate the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and survivor guilt in a sample of hospitalised soldiers evacuated from the Liberian and Sierra-Leonean wars in which Nigerians were involved as peace keepers. The relationships between PTSD, survivor guilt and substance use were also investigated.

Design. A socio-demographic data questionnaire, the PTSD checklist and a validated World Health Organization substance use survey instrument were used to obtain data from the subjects.

Setting. The study took place at the 68 Nigerian Army Reference Hospital, Lagos, Nigeria, which was the base hospital for all casualties from the Liberian and Sierra- Leonean operations. Subjects. All hospitalised patients from the military operations during a 4-year period (1990 - 1994) who were physically capable of being assessed were included in the study.

Results. The prevalence rate for PTSD was found to be 22% and survivor guilt was found in 38% of the responders. PTSD was significantly associated with long duration of stay in the mission area, current alcohol use, lifetime use of an alcohol/gunpowder mixture, and lifetime cannabis use. Survivor guilt was significantly associated with avoidance of trauma-related stimuli but not duration of combat exposure.

Conclusions. Although the sample studied was specific, PTSD might be quite common and probably undetected among Nigerian military personnel engaged in battle in Liberia and Sierra-Leone. Detection of such persons through deliberate screening in military community studies should help to alleviate the symptoms since good intervention methods are now available. Primary prevention efforts with regard to alcohol and cannabis use should help to reduce the incidence of PTSD.

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Submitted: 03 March 2008
Published: 01 March 2006

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South African Journal of Psychiatry    |    ISSN: 1608-9685 (PRINT)    |    ISSN: 2078-6786 (ONLINE)