Trajectories of Internalizing Problems in War-Affected Sierra Leonean Uouth: Examining Conflict and Post-Conflict Factors

  • Citation: Betancourt, Theresa S., Ryan McBain, Elizabeth Newnham, and Robert T. Brennan. “Trajectories of Internalizing Problems in War-Affected Sierra Leonean Youth: Examining Conflict and Post-Conflict Factors.” Child Development 84, no. 2 (2013): 455–70.
    • Topics:
    • Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding
    • Keywords:
    • Sub-Saharan Africa
    • Sierra Leone
    • war
    • children
    • adolescents and youth
    • child soldiers
    • resilience
    • mental health
    • internalizing problems

Three waves of data from a prospective longitudinal study in Sierra Leone were used to examine internalizing trajectories in 529 war-affected youth (ages 10-17 at baseline; 25% female). Latent class growth analyses identified four trajectories: a large majority of youth maintained lower levels of internalizing problems (41.4%) or significantly improved over time (47.6%) despite very limited access to care; but smaller proportions continued to report severe difficulties six years post-war (4.5%) or their symptoms worsened (6.4%). Continued internalizing problems were associated with loss of a caregiver, family abuse and neglect, and community stigma. Despite the comparative resilience of most war-affected youth in the face of extreme adversity, there remains a compelling need for interventions that address family- and community-level stressors.

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