Health & Fitness

Nightmare of work in war-torn places

Being posted to an area that is conflict-rife comes with a number of challenges which require early mental preparation. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Qn.“I have been posted to new work station in a war-prone country. I report there in three months and I wonder if I should undergo prior counselling to withstand the potentially horrific situations I am likely to encounter there. Can prior counselling help?

I am rather surprised by your question because, as a matter of course, one should be prepared for the job that they are supposed to do. If you are for example posted to Saudi Arabia, one should be informed about the ban on alcohol and the fact that women have some restrictions as to what they can do in public among other cultural norms. Similarly if one is sent to work in Scotland, it would be right and proper to warn the employee about the hostile weather in the winter. Advice on how to prepare for the weather would be relevant.

We have seen many instances in which people got into problems when they discussed politics in countries where this was simply not done. All good employers inform their staff about the challenges they are to expect. In your case you must be prepared to meet some form of hardship in the war-torn country to which you have been posted.

For example, it is unlikely that your posting will be a family station. Right there is a problem for you and the spouse. You will have to make new arrangements for the children’s welfare as well as that of other members of the family who are under your care.

These could include elderly parents or siblings. Additionally, and depending on how far from home the new station might be located, you might suffer prolonged periods of loneliness, which sometimes lead to inappropriate choices in who goes to bed with you.

On the other hand and again depending on the working hours, one could find himself with much free time which one then kills by the excess use of alcohol. All these are challenges that one should be warned about long before they accept an assignment out of the country.

Another common challenge relates to the expectations of friends and family. To many, a posting out of the country is the same as being sent to a goldmine. Friends and relatives expect to benefit from the proceeds of the overseas posting. None of them like to hear that you might be earning a small amount of money.

All these challenges come your way long before the first bullet is fired in your direction and long before you are exposed to the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Last year, we dealt with a lady who was in a situation such as yours. From an office job with regular working hours, she found herself in the middle of two rebel groups who had no regard for human life. On several occasions she found herself having to duck from bullets that flew ever so close to her head.

When the jeep she was travelling in was blown up, she became numb only to break down on arrival to safety. Her physical injuries were few (by some miracle), but her psychological wounds were deep and took many months to heal.

She had the classical symptoms of PTSD. A life threatening event had led to the development of a cluster of symptoms that define this condition. Her presenting symptom was that of alcohol abuse.

Since the incident, she could not sleep without a glass or two of wine. By the time we saw her, a bottle of whiskey was not enough! She was always on edge. The slightest noise sent her into a startle. The mention of the country she worked in caused her to tremble and at times to go into panic. She avoided any contact with persons from that country and often re-experienced the events of that day with much emotion and tearfulness. She had come to the end of her wits and felt the only option left for her was suicide.

She was admitted to a private clinic in Nairobi, at first to deal with the alcohol addiction and later to deal with the real problem which was the kind of trauma that is so common in war torn countries such as you are now headed to.

It would be important for you and your family to be aware of the challenges that you might face before, during and after the posting to your new station. If you have not done so yet, ask to speak to a person who has recently served in such a station but also seek a session with an expert in trauma counselling who might be able to give you hints on do’s and don’ts.