Getting rid of the Ghost People

child soldierPatrick became a child soldier at the age of 13. He was abducted by Ugandan rebels, who kept him for 3 years.

Schultz and Weisaeth (2015) describe Patrick’s story, his mental health problems, and his treatment, a local cleansing ritual. They conclude that the ritual is safe, effective, and perhaps even more powerful than Western-style therapy. That sounds fascinating and important, right?

In interviews Patrick told about his experiences, including an attack on a convoy:

“Everybody was screaming…The road was all red from the blood… My body was shaking, but I managed to appear calm. If not they would have killed me. The next day I experienced the Ghost People for the first time. I could see them get chopped up and sliced apart with axes. I saw the same scenes over and over again.”

The Ghost People only showed up when Patrick was alone, and scared him enormously. He also suffered from concentration problems and sleeping difficulties. He was clinically depressed and had moderate to severe PTSD.

When his nightmares were occurring twice a week and he saw the Ghost People every day – about 8 years after the convoy attack –, he stated that his life was ruined. He wanted to do a cleansing ritual. Continue reading

Children in the Emergency Department

Children Emergency DepartmentJonas was a master tree climber.

Until today.

Now his left leg has a strange angle, and he has been knocked out by the fall.


Every year, millions of injured children require treatment at a hospital Emergency Department. Approximately 1 in 6 of them develop persistent stress symptoms, such as nightmares, concentration difficulties and negative thoughts.

Emergency Department doctors and nurses provide physical care but they can also support children’s emotional wellbeing. How well are they equipped to do so? Continue reading

One family in Gaza

Images and voices say a lot more than the written word, especially when it comes to trauma. One of the most impressive, touching videos that I have seen on trauma is this one:


A few months after the 2008/9 Israeli attack that killed over 1000 Palestinian people, filmmaker Jen Marlowe visited Gaza. Among the many families she met and the stories she heard, one family stood out. In the video she shows the story of Kamal and Wafaa Awajah and their children. As Marlowe writes:

Wafaa described the execution of their son, Ibrahim. As she spoke, her children played on the rubble of their destroyed home. Kamal talked about struggling to help his kids heal from trauma.

Palestinians in Gaza are depicted either as violent terrorists or as helpless victims. The Awajah family challenges both portrayals. Through one family’s story, the larger tragedy of Gaza is exposed, and the courage and resilience of its people shines through.

Take your time to watch, it is a powerful reminder of why we work in the trauma field.


Why demographics – including sexual orientation – matter in PTSD research

A while ago I started Paper in a Day to get young trauma researchers together. It has been engaging and productive (if you’re interested, the upcoming ISTSS conference will feature one). In a recent edition, four clever minds – Drs Averill, Eubanks Fleming, Holens and Larsen – have thought through research gaps in the PTSD literature. They published a commentary and I wanted to share their thoughts here. They reflect on one of the biggest areas of trauma research, the experiences of military personnel:

As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue, and military service members continue to return home from these two conflicts, more research has been conducted to examine rates of PTSD among these service members (known in the US as OEF/OIF Veterans i.e. Veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom). This research is important so that we have an understanding of the need for healthcare in newer returning Veterans (which may differ from previous generations). In reviewing some of these articles, many of which are quite well-designed, we noticed a need for some further study to understand the nuances of who develops PTSD and why.

In particular, it would be useful to examine how PTSD prevalence in US OEF/OIF Veterans depends on 1) Veterans Affairs services use (with a particular focus on non-VA users), 2) relationship status, and 3) sexual orientation. Continue reading

On (or off?) sabbatical

It has been a bit silent on the blog in the past few months. And it was for a reason; I was on leave! Since some of you have asked me what I have been up to, I thought I’d write a slightly different blogpost this time, and share my experiences of the first half of 2015…

After doing trauma research for about 10 years, I felt that it was time for a break. My plan was to find time to reflect, experiment with new ideas, and learn, rather than simply continue on the research diesel engine (or, some may prefer the metaphor of a continuous sprint…!).

So I took a few months of unpaid leave. Some people said that I was committing career suicide; as an academic you’re expected to publish continuously. Certainly, the past few months have reduced my average output rate. However, I am very happy that I have done it, and I think that in the long run my work will be better for it. So what have I done exactly?

Help set up the Africa Science Leadership Program Continue reading