Survivor’s Mental Health

Nyamata Genocide Memorial in Bugesera
Nyamata Genocide Memorial in Bugesera

By Nasra Bishumba, The New Times

A collaborative report released on Thursday, September 2 has revealed that while 44 percent of the survivors aged over 45 years experience recurrent depression, 22 percent of the perpetrators who have served their sentence and been released for these crimes battle the same.

The survey that particularly focused on Bugesera District was conducted by Interpeace and Prison Fellowship (PFR) in collaboration with the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) and Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC).

The report indicates that depression is the most frequent mental health challenge for former perpetrators of the genocide in Bugesera.

According to the report, 33 percent of the perpetrators who are still serving sentences and 22 percent of those who completed their sentences for their involvement in the genocide experience recurrent depression.

Bugesera district is home to Rilima Prison which was hosting 3580 inmates by 2017. Of these, 2069 were serving sentences for genocide related crimes.

The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was first given a test run in areas that had large concentrations of Tutsi as far back as 1991. Among the targets was the current Bugesera District.

Trauma at the centre

Additionally, the survey found that most mental health challenges among the Bugesera District population have symptoms of trauma at their core.

Specifically, anxiety, depression, identity disturbance, suicide thoughts, substance abuse, and aggression were all found to be correlated to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, suggesting that genocide-related trauma is underlying several of the current mental health challenges in Rwanda.

The report pointed out that a profile analysis of mental health symptoms revealed distinct population clusters, each with its own mental health needs.

“People with a substance use profile are characterized by drug or alcohol use at clinical levels, lower education, aggression and rebelliousness, while they have suffered from adverse childhood experiences. The profile is common among genocide-affected youth,” the report indicates.

It recommended professional support to improve impulse control and anger management and an improvement in challenging family relations.

“People with an alienation-emptiness profile are characterized by their inability to trust society, loss of identity, exposure to the genocide or other community violence, and anxiety. Former prisoners and survivors aged 28-44 are more likely to be in this group,” the report says.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Interpeace’s Great Lakes Regional Representative Frank Kayitare said that the societal trauma healing project in Bugesera district is aimed at contributing to the strengthening of mental health service provision; promote social cohesion and support collaborative livelihood initiatives.

He reminded his audience that although the work that needs to be put in fixing some of the impacts of the genocide is always a work in progress, collaborations will such as the work put into compiling the report will always be necessary.

“We are cognizant of the tremendous progress already made by the government and the local non-governmental actors in terms of addressing emotional, social and economic impacts of the genocide against the Tutsi. Ours is simply to add our contribution to this journey that remains long, and requires partnerships,” he said.

He reminded that the data collected during the compilation of the report will be used as a base to extend the survey to the rest of the country.

The European Union Ambassador to Rwanda Nicola Bellomo said that healing societal trauma and livelihood improvement of the Rwandan community will greatly support the realization of the government’s vision to lift the Rwandan population into a state of health, prosperity and peace.

“We are particularly happy to support this initiative given our long involvement in Rwanda’s post-genocide reconciliation and peace-building efforts. Our support to home-grown systems of mediation continues today,” he said.

The baseline survey adopted a mixed cross-sectional approach and took place between February and May 2021. It addressed genocide survivors; current and ex-genocide prisoners, families of genocide survivors and of current and ex-prisoners, the youth; and the general population.

In all, 5,020 individuals from all 15 sectors of the district participated in the quantitative enquiry in addition to 14 focus groups and 18 key informant interviews.

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