Displaced Women in Darfur Suffer Severe Depression

A new study of internally displaced women in Sudan’s South Darfur illuminates the bleak status of women’s mental health in the volatile region. The study, which will be published in January by the International Medical Corps (IMC), found that although humanitarian aid helps meet women”s basic nutritional needs, the mental health of displaced women in Darfur is largely neglected.

Since the Darfur crisis began in 2003, more than 2 million people have been displaced internally within Sudan or have fled to nearby Chad. Though the region is difficult for aid workers and researchers to access, IMC was able to examine displaced women in refugee camps in South Darfur.

Almost one-third (31 percent) of women surveyed met the criteria for major depressive disorder while 63 percent reported suffering the emotional symptoms of depression. Five percent reported suicidal thoughts, 2 percent had attempted suicide, and another 2 percent of households had a member commit suicide in the past year. Nearly all of the respondents (98 percent) felt that counseling provided by humanitarian agencies would be the most helpful way of dealing with these feelings.

The IMC posits that women’s multiple roles in society, along with constant stressors like low socio-economic status, domestic violence, and the threat of rape when venturing outside, may account for the poor mental health of these displaced women. Women’s restricted access to education may also affect their ability to access proper care and make informed decisions about their own physical and mental health. Though depression rates are comparable to, or even lower than, those of other populations displaced by similar conflicts, the rates of suicide and suicidal ideation are “alarmingly high in contrast to general rates worldwide,” according to the report.

The IMC adds that conditions have only worsened since the original data was collected in 2005 and that, since data was solicited from a comparatively safer camp that was receiving basic humanitarian aid, the mental health situation is likely worse for women in other camps and in the Darfur region as a whole.

LEARN MORE Read how UCLA students took action on campus to address the Darfur crisis in the Summer 2006 issue Ms. magazine

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IMC release 12/2006; American Journal of Public Health 11/30/2006; Reuters AlertNet 12/15/2006; BBC News 11/16/2006

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