PATHOLOGICAL grief is likely to be among the long-term...

Salmagundi

September 01, 1992

PATHOLOGICAL grief is likely to be among the long-term effects of the famine in Somalia. The following is from a report by Physicians for Human Rights:

"Somali tradition dictates great respect for the dead. While there is no elaborate funeral, a person's death should be followed by 40 days of mourning, after which ceremonies are held to commemorate that person's life. As in all societies, the fulfilment of these practices serves important social and psychological functions for the bereaved.

"In Mogadishu today, death has become commonplace. The dead are buried hurriedly, usually in shallow graves. The grounds of the hospitals, the yards of houses and street corners are filled with shallow unmarked graves.

"Of equal or greater significance, the traditional period of mourning cannot be observed; the lack of security makes it difficult for relatives and friends to visit and comfort the close family by sharing their grief, and only the most perfunctory prayers are said for the deceased, if any. Not only are the traditional networks of social support for the bereaved not functioning, but the bereaved themselves feel a burden of guilt toward the dead for failing to fulfill their customary obligations. Many of the survivors will have been bereft of not just one close friend or relative, but many.

"This combination is likely to lead to widespread pathological grief among the bereaved. This may be expressed in chronic depression, somatic complaints such as severe headaches and body aches, loss of confidence in oneself and others, social withdrawal, lethargy and attempted suicide.

"One common preventive treatment for widespread pathological grief is to hold communal mourning ceremonies. In the West, this function is partly fulfilled by monuments such as 'the tomb of the unknown soldier,' and by special memorial days. Similar practices for collective remembrance could play an important role in the psychological health of the survivors of Mogadishu."

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