Monday, 11 April 2011

Depression and PTSD in Poland after 1945

I wasn't 100% happy with part of this article, where I quoted from this summary of research findings and said:

"Depressive illnesses are higher problems in people from 'eastern' European countries (including Poland) than western countries (to be precise: Germany 26.7%/22.8%, Denmark 24.9%/12.1%, Poland 45.5%/27.3%, Bulgaria 42.9%/33.8% for female and male students respectively."

Due to the length of that article I didn't dwell on this statement.  If I had, I would have pointed out that incidents of depressive illnesses are actually higher among Bulgarians than among Poles.  In any case, these findings were based upon 2,146 students who were aged younger than 23.  The Polish students who were questioned were studying at the (Roman) Catholic University of Lublin.

Depressive illnesses among young people

The research was trying to show comparisons of the mental health of young people in western and 'eastern' Europe in order to assess the effects of the events of and after 1989.  A conclusion made was that there the higher proportion of mental health problems in the 'east' compared to the west is growing.  My aim however is to measure the general level of mental health problems in Poland in comparison to other countries.  To this aim one could say that students are not the best measure of the mental health of the country.  While stress, insecurity and worries for the future are not confined to younger people, I believe it to be nevertheless the case that younger people may have less developed skills in order to counteract mental health problems.

An another issue arising from the findings that I shall return to in the future is the higher rates of depression for females than for males.  This is in marked difference to the situation in GB.  I shall return to the theme gender roles in Poland and their possible impact upon the mental health of men and women in Poland at a later date.

Difficulty in assessing mental health problems in Poland

My further research (note to the English language student, the word 'research' can mean looking up articles on the internet or in books, not just academic studies) shows me that it can be difficult to actually assess the mental health of people in Poland since the end of WWII.  Magdalena Pytel says that '(people with mental health problems in Poland) are faced with a total lack of understanding by those around them.  They consider the sickness to be a momentary mood swing.  They often say "Pull yourself together".  Such a view is not confined to Poland, and the view is, according to Mrs Pytel, slowly changing.  In any case, the World Health Organisation sees depression to be a problem which is increasing throughout the world.  In Poland prescriptions for anti-depressants have increased to the rate of one to ten since 1989 (ibid.)

Nonetheless, a societal reticence in admitting that one has mental health problems will deter one from seeking help (especially when you are male) and therefore statistics are not likely to show the full picture.  The increase in use of anti-depressants in Poland may not be due to increased rates in depression, rather it may be due to an increased awareness and acceptance of mental health problems in Poland.

Mental health among the over-60s

So what about older people in Poland?  Well, this study measured data from 211 people in Poland, aged 66-80.  30% of them were Jewish survivors of the Shoah.  Post traumatic stress disorder was found to be twice as high for Jewish survivors (55.6%) than for non-Jewish survivors (30.9%) while 'no differences were found for depression and social isolation'.  The study also confirmed that parental loss was a key influence on general well-being.

211 is a small group of people, but it would be not too much to intuit that such findings would mirror themselves among the rest of Polish people in that age group and would confirm what I stated in my aforementioned article.

Otherwise, I have been unable to come across any other studies of the effect of WWII on non-Jewish Poles.  Searches on the internet shows various studies in western countries, but only concentrating on veterans (i.e. not on civilians).  I am unaware of any such studies in central and eastern European countries.  This would make sense.  As the exhibition in the German-Russian Museum in Karlshorst, Berlin shows, the former way of looking at the past in the Soviet Union was not to focus on the suffering of those involved, rather to demonstrate the strength of the worker fighting against fascism.  I would imagine that such a focus was existent in Poland.

I have found the results of one piece of research done in Poland:

Findings of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by the Psychological Department of Warsaw University

This had a focus on reactions to traumatic incidents as children and showed that a quarter of those surveyed said that they were beaten as children, beatings which led to incidents of PTSD when they got older.  (Incidentally, more women than men were diagnosed with PTSD.  One could speculate many reasons for this.)

Professor Lis-Turlejska went on to link this to Poland's history: "The increase of incidences of PTSD in Poland is connected to the traumatic feature of Polish history and the experience of WWII.  People in our country are paying the price with the phenomena of the transgenerational cycle of trauma, a trauma which 'transmits' emotional problems along the line.  Therefore [...] children are being harmed in the time after the war, largely by being vulnerable to PTSD".

What is not said here is something I shall now extrapolate: I understand Professor Lis-Turlejska to mean that the traumatised generation of people who were immediately affected by WWII passed this on not only through a worldview of fear (such as mentioned here) but also through the playing out of violence upon their children.  

I would have guessed that it was a culture of 'education through violence' that was the factor here (a culture common in most countries, I believe).  It is possible to judge here that this violence happened not just to the cultural acceptance of violence against children, but also that the parents were traumatised.  Would I be too presumptuous in saying that the position of being a parent would put them in a power situation, a power situation that they had not experienced during the war, a power situation that can lead to abuses?  Better analysts than myself would be able to draw out the theme of projection of the inner relationship of perpetrator and victim, a scene being played out in the relationship between parent and child.

Where does this lead us?

There are various issues that emerge as possible ways of dealing with trauma that arose in response to the events of WWII:

1. A rise in awareness of mental sickness, which would lead to more diagnoses and more treatment
2. A speaking out against 'education through violence', i.e. abuse of children
3. More work being on gender roles 
4. The historical narrative being enlarged to enable less-developed themes to be dealt with in the public

I shall return to these themes at a later date.


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