Mental Health and Life After War for Child Soldiers

The newest issue of the journal Child Development presents two different studies addressing former child soldiers and their mental health, social adjustment, and overall well-being in the years after they fighting has stopped. The studies together show that wartime experience and post-war family and social environment both impact the mental health outcome of the children.

The first study followed 150 former child soldiers from Sierra Leone for two years after that country’s civil war ended. Researchers compared the age at which the children were abducted or conscripted into fighting, as well as the types of experiences they had during war, in relation to their post-war tendency for depression or aggressive behavior. They found that the age at which children started fighting (some as young as 7 years old) played a role in how depressed they were; the younger, the more severe the depression. For aggressive behavior, the severity of wartime experience was the greatest factor. All of the children reported witnessing severe violence, but those who had injured another person, killed another person, or been raped exhibited markedly more aggressive behavior in the years after the war.

The second study looked at 330 former child soldiers in Uganda to compare wartime experience, post-war community environment, and mental health. More than half reported having killed someone, more than one quarter had been raped, and a full 90% were still experiencing or witnessing violence in the communities they returned to. The children in this study exhibited high rates of posttraumatic stress (PTSD) and depression, with two thirds of the group suffering from emotional or behavioral problems. Researchers found that the remaining third—those children without serious lasting mental health issues—tended to be younger, and also returned to homes and communities with lower levels of violence and higher levels of emotional support, social acceptance, and socioeconomic stability.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Winnie


    July 21st, 2010 at 11:46 AM

    I can’t imagine a child having to endure something like this. The people who enslave these kids should be ashamed of themselves but you know that they’re not.

  • sandy


    July 21st, 2010 at 4:24 PM

    children like these need to be administered with mental health care as soon as they are rescued from the war region and they need the love of a family to have any hopes of returning to normalcy!

  • MnM


    July 22nd, 2010 at 2:18 AM

    we need stronger international laws that can protect children’s rights and save them from these kind of pathetic and inhumane practices.

  • Olivia


    July 22nd, 2010 at 4:31 AM

    So what do we do to help these children? They can’t all be taken from the countries where they experienced such violence. And removing them from the situation does not take away the pain, the guilt, the depression, and the hurt. We have to do a better job on an international level of getting help, staff, and resources in to those war torn countries so that we can reach those children. Think of how down they will be throughout the rest of their lives if they dod not start getting the treatment that they need right now. And unfortunately think of the harm that they are going to be willing to inflict on others that will stem from all of the abuse that they have had to endure themselves.

  • TF


    July 22nd, 2010 at 3:11 PM

    ^^ You are absolutely right.Taking them away from their place is not going to solve the problem.Instead,they should be helped by agencies like the UNICEF and other international agencies and be rehabilitated and then let out into the mainstream when they are fine.Sure,it is a big task which is not easy and does require a substantial amount of funding but they are the future,the kids,they need everything we can give to them.

  • Raven bighead

    Raven bighead

    October 4th, 2012 at 9:43 AM

    hi :3 these children get what they deserve because they are little assholes :) and i think we need MORE child soldiers :)

  • Anon


    May 3rd, 2013 at 9:16 AM

    ^^ What the f—? why would you say something like that? How about we put you in a war zone and see how you like it, huh? How about we put your future children to wartime like those? You have no idea how much trauma these kids go through. Do you understand how big of an impact that child soldiers put on society? They are the next generation, and if they go to war, then they become violent killers, capable of even more extreme violence. Saying something like we need more child soldiers is immoral, asshole. You can hardly imagine what it’s like to be a little kid, thrown in fronton an army of soldiers, raped by rebel leaders, beaten, shot, tortured, seen people’s heads get cut off. And the fact that you can say that with a happy face makes me sick. Monster.

  • Leo


    February 26th, 2017 at 11:02 PM

    I 100% agree with you what he said was very bad and he should not do it again and he should Apologize.

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on