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Life after Genocide: Mental Health, Education, and Social Support of Orphaned Survivors.


Thousands of orphaned survivors of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi were not only exposed to extraordinarily severe forms of violence, but also many of these children took on the responsibility of caring and providing for other child survivors. This study describes the poverty, educational attainment, social support and mental health of orphaned heads of household (OHH) fourteen years after the genocide, and analyzes how violence exposure during the genocide and post-genocide stressors contributed to symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and distress. Participants were 61 members of an OHH community organization who were interviewed in 2002 about their genocide experiences and who provided a follow-up assessment of post-genocide risk factors and PTSD and distress symptoms in 2008. Almost all of the OHH in this study reported low social support, high levels of poverty, and high rates of PTSD and distress symptoms. Lower educational attainment predicted PTSD symptoms and partially mediated the association between exposure to genocide violence and PTSD. Distress was predicted by lack of social support and witnessing family members harmed during the genocide. Results suggest that public health and community efforts to improve educational outcomes and to strengthen and expand social support networks may improve mental health outcomes of OHH.

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