Press Releases

1996 Releases

Harvard Study Reports Major Mental Health Crisis in Rwanda

For immediate release: December 16, 1996 

Cambridge, MA - A report issued by the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma states that as a result of the 1994 genocide, Rwanda is facing a nationwide mental health crisis, with potentially dire implications for the country's economic and political future.

Based on a survey in Rwanda, a Harvard team of psychiatrists specialized in trauma reports that large sections of the population are suffering from symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder. The team discovered local populations in "frozen or paralyzed" states unable to re-establish farming and other socially productive activities. The report's authors project that the entire Rwandan population is in a state of psychological shock and social withdrawal. The investigators describe particularly vulnerable groups at the greatest risk for long-term medical and psychiatric illness.

The report identifies three categories of Rwandans affected by the crisis: the general population who are experiencing emotional difficulties as a result of the genocide; individuals who have developed trauma-related problems as a result of violence, including rape and torture; and the chronically mentally ill whose mental health problems were exacerbated by the 1994 events. Combined, these three groups presage a nation-wide mental health crisis, the authors argue, which demands urgent attention by the Rwandan government and international community.

The Rwandan government has received a copy of the report and acknowledged receipt. The Harvard team's recommendations to respond to the mental health crisis include:

  • the use of mass communication, especially radio, to address psycho-social trauma;
  • additional international support for traditional mechanisms for conflict resolution;
  • the creation of a Mental Health Task Force;
  • the rebuilding of primary health care and traditional healing systems;
  • the training of traditional and primary health care workers to recognize trauma.

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman
Office of Communications
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752
Email: rherman@hsph.harvard.edu