A recent study published in Conflict and Health explores the traumatic stress of medics working in low-resource war-affected areas of Karen state, eastern Burma (also known as Myanmar). The study is the first of its kind to document the psychological effects of conflict on health providers in difficult-to-access areas of Burma.
The results suggest, unsurprisingly, that many of these medics suffer from PTSD, burnout, depression, and anxiety resulting from prolonged exposures to wartime stressors. However, the evidence suggested a surprising degree of mental resilience amongst the medics, characterized by strong social bonds and group-based coping mechanisms. The importance of peer group support as a protective factor suggests that providers in high-stress crisis and disaster settings worldwide -- whether military paramedics, social workers, or firefighters -- may benefit from community- and team-based mental health interventions.
Even with ceasefire agreements in place between the Karen National Liberation Army and Burmese forces, the legacy of violence and forgotten landmines will likely continue to haunt the Karen people. Ethnic conflicts in other regions, such as Kachin state to the north, are only beginning to deescalate. As these backpack medics frequently function as the primary health providers in ethnic areas, their mental health is crucial to the delivery of services to their populations in need.