African Journal of Psychiatry

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Post traumatic stress disorder and resilience in veterans who served in the South African border war

MA Connell, O Omole, U Subramaney, S Olorunju


Objective: The psychological impact of the South African border war on veterans has received little or no attention. This study determined the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and extent of resilience among a cohort of veterans.
Method: Of 1527 former students who matriculated from a Johannesburg high school from 1975 to 1988, only 109 were reachable for convenience and snowballing recruitment into this study. An anonymous, internet-based questionnaire was used to obtain information on demography, combat exposure, drug and alcohol use, traumatic events in later life, and recourse to medication and counselling. The Impact of Event Scale – Revised (IES-R) assessed for PTSD and the Connor Davidson Resilience Scale (CDRISC) measured resilience. Data were processed with STATA; version 11 statistical software package. Analysis included Chi square test and regression analysis.
Results: The response rate was 49.5% (n=54). The prevalence of PTSD was 33% and significantly associated with combat exposure (p=.012). Despite high prevalence of PTSD in those exposed to combat, 94% showed normal to above-normal level of resilience. CD-RISC scores showed no association with the IES-R. Only current cannabis use was significantly linked with PTSD (p=.044).
Conclusion: Although the prevalence of PTSD found in this sample was higher than in comparable international studies, this cohort of former SA national servicemen, showed high levels of resilience. The current use of cannabis within the context of prior exposure to military national service or combat should prompt clinicians to screen for the presence of PTSD-associated symptoms.

Keywords: Combat Exposure; Post-traumatic Stress Disorder; National Service; Border War; South Africa

African Journal of Psychiatry • November 2013, 16(6)
AJOL African Journals Online