Trauma linked to chronic conditions and mental disorders

14 August 2015 | Story Newsroom
Professor Lukoye Atwoli. (Photo courtesy of <a href="" target="_blank">Moi University, Kenya.</a>)
Professor Lukoye Atwoli. (Photo courtesy of Moi University, Kenya.)

A recent study by a UCT doctoral graduate has, for the first time, demonstrated a clear link between exposure to trauma and the potential development of chronic physical conditions and mental disorders.

In his groundbreaking study, Professor Lukoye Atwoli, who is dean of the School of Medicine at Moi University in Kenya, used data collected during the South African Stress and Health Study (SASH).

Analysing this information, he found a link between those who had been exposed to traumatic experiences and mental disorders, like mood and anxiety disorder, as well as an increased risk of chronic physical conditions such as chronic pain, cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and arthritis.

His research has implications for work done in the field of post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD).

The most common traumatic events noted in the study were related to the unexpected death of a loved one and the witnessing of a traumatic event. Based on these findings, Atwoli, recommended that interventions for trauma survivors should not only address those directly involved but also witnesses to such events.

"I hope that my findings will be used in designing interventions for trauma survivors, and for advocacy in addressing the huge burden of trauma exposure, not only in South Africa but in most the low and middle-income countries across the globe," he said.

"I have always been interested in trauma and PTSD research, and my MMed thesis at the University of Nairobi involved assessment of PTSD among survivors of the Mau Mau concentration camps in Kenya, about 50 years after incarceration," he said.

His doctoral thesis was supervised by Professor Dan Stein, who heads the Department of Psychiatry & Mental Health at UCT.

"UCT is without doubt the best university in Africa, and punches above its weight internationally, and I jumped at the opportunity to pursue a PhD here," said Atwoli.


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