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The deterioration of mental health in times of social violence

The medical literature is extensive in this regard, having published in recent years studies that show that the mental health of children, adults and the elderly are significantly affected in times of social violence.


The social demonstrations of October 2019 in Chile, triggered by the increase of 30 pesos (US$0.04) in the metro fare, produced serious civil unrest that expressed serious injustices and historical inequalities in Chilean society.

Various studies document the impact of civil unrest on the mental health of the Chilean population. In an article in the “Chilean Journal of Public Health” in 2019, psychiatrist Carlos Madariaga mentions that the teams of the national network of the Program for Reparation and Comprehensive Care in Health and Human Rights (Prais) “they reported an increase in the demand for care since the beginning of the crisis due to symptomatic exacerbations and reactivation of mourning due to political repressionbeing very recurrent the reappearance of emotions and feelings of anguish, fear, anger, helplessness, discouragement and insecurity, associated with the intense evocation of the traumatic experiences lived in the dictatorship, some of which account for a long-standing post-traumatic stress disorder. data”.

“It is very likely that fake news […] can strongly affect people’s moods and increase their worries.”

On the other hand, Chilean researchers publish in “Sleep Science” from January-March 2022 that in a survey of 2,532 people during the civil unrest, 50% suffered daytime sleepiness and 71% had insomnia. The study also showed that the people most affected were women, those over 51 years of age, those who did not study a health career or work in the health sector, those who were exposed to four or more hours per day to the news and those who lived in areas near or very close to the riots. The authors conclude that living or working in riot areas has a greater effect on mental health compared to other determinants.

The authors also point out a very interesting and contemporary fact, which is that the distribution of information and images through WhatsApp or other social networks have a great impact on insomnia and daytime sleepiness. The authors say that it is very likely that false news or facts without a journalistic edition, which show shocking images or misleading information, can strongly affect people’s mood and increase their concerns.

Hong Kong

Due to the drafting of a bill allowing the extradition of Hong Kong citizens to China, Hong Kong City experienced severe social unrest from March 15, 2019 to mid-2020. Protesters seized the Legislative Council, the Police seized the universities, all amid severe police repression. Several studies have evaluated the impact of social violence on the mental health of the population.

A study published in February 2021, in 4,011 Hong Kong Chinese residents over 15 years of age, documented a higher frequency of anxiety and depression, which was aggravated by the stress caused by COVID-19, with the most intense damage being the most intense. poor. Another study, published in 2022, documented that social violence disproportionately affects older people, causing feelings of panic, fear, insomnia, depression, annoyance, and anger. Finally, another study concludes that the mental health impact of civil unrest would translate into a 12% excess burden on the health service in the future.

“There is no doubt that the impact of the present social crisis on mental health will be immense.”


A study of nearly 2,000 women by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health during the April 2015 civil unrest (death of Freddie Gray by police) documented that violence had an acute effect on maternal depressive symptoms in neighborhoods near the riots.

global studies

One of the most comprehensive studies to assess the impact of civil unrest on population mental health was published in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry (ANZJP) in 2020. The authors systematically reviewed the medical literature on the relationship between social upheaval and mental health, identifying 52 studies in 20 countries/regions.

What was found is that the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder ranged from 4% to 41% in riot-affected areas, and that of major depression increased by 7%, regardless of personal participation in the protests, which suggests indirect effects in the community. Those who suffered the most were women, people of lower socioeconomic status, those most exposed to violence, those who had more interpersonal conflicts with friends or family, who used social networks more frequently, and those with less resilience and social support.

The authors conclude that protests, even when nonviolent, may be associated with adverse mental health outcomes.


Based on the data presented, there is no doubt that the impact of the present social crisis on the mental health of the Peruvian population will be immense. It is the task of academic institutions to study the problem, and of the health authorities to implement programs that lead to timely care for excess cases of anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress that are already occurring in children, young adults, and adults. in the country, especially in the most troubled areas.

Source: Elcomercio

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