Mental health and psychosocial problems among conflict-affected children in Kachin State, Myanmar: A qualitative study

Catherine Lee, Amanda J. Nguyen, Tara Russell, Yasmina Aules, Paul Bolton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: In Kachin State, Myanmar, collapse of a ceasefire in 2011 has resulted in widespread exposure to conflict and ongoing internal displacement. Such exposures are known risk factors for mental health and psychosocial (MHPS) problems, yet mental health services for children and youth are typically scarce in such circumstances. Following evaluation of a mental health treatment for adult trauma survivors on the Thailand-Myanmar border, our study team received requests to support the development of a similar intervention for displaced children in Kachin State. To inform this work, we conducted a brief qualitative needs assessment to explore priority MHPS problems among this population. Methods: Data were collected in internally displaced persons camps in Kachin State during July and August, 2016. Free list interviews with a convenience sample of 28 adolescents and 12 adults produced a list of problems affecting children and adolescents in this area. Four problems were further explored in key informant interviews with a convenience sample of 26 adolescents and 4 adults. Data analysis was conducted by the local interview team. Results: Priority problems included: behavior problems, substance use, effects of war, and feeling sad/depressed/hopeless. Descriptions emphasized the interconnectedness between the problems. Overall, most problems were related to specific events that suggest that the symptoms themselves are responses to unusual situations; however, the problems were also linked to current psychosocial stressors such as poverty, poor nutrition, and discrimination. Effects of war were described primarily as a constellation of social and economic problems rather than a list of mental health symptoms, although descriptions of these problems did include post-traumatic stress symptoms. Conclusions: Findings fit well within explanatory models of distress that include both direct trauma exposure and exacerbation of daily stressors. Results of this study have been used to inform intervention adaptation and evaluation, but also contribute to the literature on the needs of young people in situations of protracted conflict.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number39
JournalConflict and Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 19 2018


  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Conflict
  • Internally displaced persons
  • Mental health
  • Myanmar
  • Qualitative
  • Youth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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