Peru mental health specialists provide treatment for children of political violence

A team of mental health professionals from the National Institute of Child Health began a campaign Monday to provide support for youth who have experienced trauma originating from Peru’s armed conflict from 1980 – 2000 in the department of Ayacucho, located in the country’s south-central Andes.

The health experts will provide counseling to 1,250 children and adolescents in the town of Huanta, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

The head of the team, Carlos Tenicela, said they would visit local hospitals and travel to schools where they would treat cases that include depression, learning disabilities, hyperactivity and domestic violence. He added that they would organize work shops on mental health for teachers and their assistants.

Ayacucho was the hardest hit region during Peru’s internal armed conflict. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated that more than 69,000 people were killed during the conflict, in which thousands of poor campesinos were caught in the crossfire between a bloody Maoist Shining Path insurgency and brutal government backlash.

Today, Huanta has one of the country’s highest rates of suicide attempts, the Health Ministry said. Four minors have committed suicide in the town since the beginning of 2010.

While many of the youth in the region did not directly experience Peru’s political violence during its peak in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, the trauma experienced by their parent’s can be passed on in many ways. According to a 2004 study by Kaethe Weingarten of the Harvard Medical School, inter-generational trauma from political violence can be transmitted through, among other ways, projecting fear, lack of communication, and humiliation.

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