It is known that people who get traumatised over the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi are the people who experienced the horrific occurrences at the time. But recently psychologists have shifted the scope of Genocide trauma even to people who were not around at the time, especially the children who can inherit that trauma.
In Rwanda, psychologists found that in 2015, several youth in the age range of 15-35 suffered Genocide trauma, meaning that those who are 35, were only aged 14 during the Genocide, while those aged 15 were not born yet then but suffer through hereditary and environmental factors.
“Those who were not yet born, though they never saw or experienced the physical pain or mental effect of the Genocide, have grown in a traumatised society, thus fall in the same category. Someone born after the Genocide can experience or acquire the trauma from parents, relatives, neighbours and generally people that surround him because he/she is in a world where they see traumatised thereby developing their own imagination of the Genocide after observing their parents in unusual conditions,” says Dr Yvonne Kaitenshonga.
She says it’s not only in Rwanda where transgenerational trauma occurs in children, but also in countries that also suffered similar tragic history like in Israel, Vietnam, Cambodia and Armenia, where children’s born by survivors could experience and inherit trauma through their parents’ DNA.
Recent research, for instance, found that Holocaust survivors and their children both had lower cortisol levels than Jewish families who had lived outside of Europe during the war. Cortisol is a hormone that helps humans copes with stress. Low cortisol levels can cause depression, emotional hypersensitivity, and social anxiety.
Signs, symptoms of intergenerational trauma
Psychologists say victims experience the usual symptoms related to post trauma stress disorder such loss of appetite, emotional breakdown, frightening thoughts, flash back of traumatic events, numbness, feeling of hopelessness, hyper arousal, aggressive behaviour and recklessness.
A person suffering from intergenerational trauma can be helped to lead a normal life. But experts warn that though trauma can be healed by chemical medications could worsen the patients situation.
“The healing comes better through psychological and social treatment through conversation and counselling which allow the victim speak her heart out, crying or other forms of relief as one speaks about the tragic history,” Kaitenshonga adds.
“Post-traumatic stress disorder is triggered by the anxiety and fear of events that happened before and could be only handled psychologically not like other kinds of mental disorders like depression and psychosis that can be healed through medicines,” says Dr Jean Damascene Iyamuremye.