How the Crisis in Nicaragua Affects Young People’s Mental Health
Fear, apathy and stress are common symptoms, indicating that the situation is also affecting our minds, experts explain
For nearly three months, Nicaraguans have suffered through one of the gravest social and political crises in the country’s history. Be it behind the barricades or via cellphone screens, thousands of young people have witnessed atrocious crimes.
By this juncture, the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights has registered more than 285 assassinations, some 1,500 wounded, and at least 156 disappearances. Nevertheless, there’s no official count of the permanent or temporary psychological damages.
In its report on the Nicaraguan situation, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) specified that “the mental health and emotional well-being of the population is being seriously affected by the current context of violence, harassment, threats and repression.” The organization has classified the crisis as a “traumatic” event that – according to the testimonies that they received – has manifested itself in those living through it with intense stress, extreme suffering, anxiety, shame, and a radical change in the lives of the surviving victims and their family members.
According to psychotherapist Steven Perez, the psychological effects of the events of these past months “are of large proportion, and we will probably transmit our traumas to the next generations.” According to Perez, fear, apathy and stress are common symptoms that indicate that the situation is also affecting our minds. “It’s normal to be afraid. Fear in the face of dangerous or life-threatening situations serves as a warning mechanism to take precautions in our actions, unless this fear starts to paralyze us and we can’t implement our normal acts,” he expresses.
One of his recommendations is to write down how we feel, or to talk about it with those we trust, distract ourselves once in a while with things that don’t have anything to do with the context of our fears, and if possible to seek psychological help. You need to find the resources at hand and transform them into something life-sustaining,” he states.
On our social media platform, we asked our readers how this situation has affected them. These were some of the responses:
Gabriel, 20 years old
I live in Diriamba. We haven’t gone through the things here that other places have, thank God, but there’s always a tension about the attacks. I haven’t left my house for a month. I haven’t seen my family members, friends, anyone. We don’t have a lot of entertainment in my house; maybe sometimes the most anticipated World Cup matches. In our case we also have to deal with the scarcity that’s part of our lives…. In brief, everything is very tiresome, worse when they lie about what’s happening, a thousand times worse.
I feel that in general we’re developing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and it’s been especially hard on those of us who already have a history of mental disorders. For example, many of my friends and acquaintances are beginning to have anxiety or panic attacks, even though their mental health was previously good. The friends I chat with are beginning to show symptoms of depression. They can’t sleep, they barely eat, they can’t carry on with their daily activities, they’ve lost interest in many of the things they used to be passionate about, and they tell me that they feel empty.
Among those of us who already live with mental disorders (the ones I’ve spoken with) a feeling of uselessness and hopelessness predominates. We also talk a lot about suicide in self-deprecating jokes. I believe that it’s more difficult to generate emotions, because we’d never lived through anything like this, it’s irrational. Because of this, we burst into tears at any moment. In addition, the killings are so unpredictable and so public: we feel a constant need to be connected and see what’s happening; where they’re attacking; grieving for the people they kill and worried that our friends and family might be next.
The crisis in my country has affected me a lot psychologically. I’m very anxious. I’ve gained weight, little by little, and the urge to smoke has come back. I quit smoking five months ago but I don’t know how much more time I’m going to last. My depression has returned. I lost my job and today I had a lot of suicidal thoughts, thinking that I’m doing absolutely nothing with my life and that this situation is worsening my professional development so I’m never going to grow professionally.,
All of this terrifies me. My sleep schedule is out of control: I fall asleep at 4 am and I get up after noon. I just want to sleep and sleep, because every time I check social media, everything gets worse.
Since it began, I’ve been in a constant state of anxiety. The lack of rest – although I sleep, it’s not restful – the overwhelming news, the constant worry and living in a state of alert all the time has given me heart palpitations, plus a lack of motivation and the urge to just abandon everything. This occurs to the point where at moments I lose the sense of what’s happening, and see things like I was looking down from above. Some days are more difficult, and I have a hard time just getting out of bed.
Obviously, I can’t concentrate at work and I’m always in my own head. I’ve lost a certain connection with people around me. And the nights are more difficult. The tense silence doesn’t let me sleep, and many nights I just cry and cry about the lack of hope.
I work in a shop within a State institution. Those of us who don’t support the regime are subject to strong psychological pressures. They’ve increased their security and duplicated the number of cameras. The other staff of the institution are watching us. They’ve closed some modules, supposedly applying the “policy of being unable to pay,” but in truth it’s because the people have been seen in the protests or sharing posts in Facebook.
It’s very hard to work in peace. Very few bosses understand or offer the support that one needs. I suffer from a chronic ailment, and all this stress has had an effect, not only on my peace of mind but on my physical health. I’ve had a relapse due to the crisis, and I’ve spent several days confined to bed.
Personally, I’ve spent a lot of time worried, but what happened to the family whose house they set on fire with them in it has affected me deeply. I believe I’m suffering from anxiety: an anxiety that I think began or became worse due to an experience I had a few years ago, but with this it’s become much stronger. I’m always imagining the worst that can happen, and I go around worried, especially about my son who isn’t yet even two.
I can’t stand seeing anything bad happen to children, and this has left me in a very bad state of mind. My husband immediately deleted the images of the fire that I’d been sent on the Whatsapp app, before I could see them. I still haven’t seen them, but when I found out (about the children dying in the fire) I spent two days constantly crying. I don’t want to leave home, I’m afraid, and I feel bad for my baby who spends all day shut up in the house. I only leave to go to work and then go straight home. I’ve seen how this situation has brought out the worst in some people. The only thing that keeps me sane is the solidarity of our people, and I feel that, more than dividing us, this has united us more strongly.
In my case, I’ve had to postpone my sessions with a psychologist. I have to save that money for any emergency or use it to buy food to donate. So, the advances that I’d made in coming out of a depressive state, have gone backwards. I’ve come to the point of having nervous crises, insomnia, nightmares, etc. etc. I feel guilty about thinking about going to therapy when I could use that money for something more urgent. It gets complicated, because in truth, yes, it’s a privilege to be able to pay for a therapist. I have zero concentration at work and it wouldn’t surprise me if they fire me one of these days.
I can’t concentrate at work, I suffer from insomnia at night, and fear and repugnance when I see a uniformed policeman. I’m paranoid about the motorcycle gangsters, to the point where I keep a bat in my car in case I find myself in a dangerous situation. I believe that the difference in the person I am today and who I was two months ago is fathomless. Thanks to therapy and friends (the ones who are always with you and not just for special occasions), I’ve found the comfort and human warmth that I was lacking, since I couldn’t even see my family because I come from one of the other departments.
To a certain extent, we all know that we’ve been touched by nearly the same thing: lack of sleep, anxiety, crying over just about everything, feeling angry, sad, not being able to contain our emotions when we see the publications of those who support this government. In short… I identify with all this. I feel that I’d like to kill myself, but I don’t want to do it for the simple reason of calling it “suicide”. So I say, “okay, I’m going to the protests or to a barricade, and if the thing they fear most (the repression) happens, well, so be it.” There are days that I’m in the streets and I’m not afraid to lose my life because I’m already at that point where I don’t want to live anymore. If I were to go to the trenches only for the reason that I could lose my life, I would have been there since May 31, but my parents are on my case, and at times I rethink it and stop myself.
Everything that happens in this country affects me in that way. I get angry, I cry and I say, “I have to go and give my life, because I really don’t need it.” I feel disillusioned with all this. I’m fed up and ever unhappier. I have a lot of hatred. Instead of uniting the family, we’re moving further apart. Only my parents are there for me, and it’s for them that I’m here at home. Every person goes through their own ordeal.
I find myself with mixed emotions, as if some of my screws had come loose. When someone tells me something, I totally misinterpret it beforehand and I get mad. I think it’s the situation that’s making me feel this way, and I always try to stay calm. Loud noises shake me up. I had to leave my house and go live in a hotel with my sister. When I hear the motor on a pick-up truck, I recognize it and look for a place to crouch down. It’s a reflex, and I do it without thinking.
My appetite has also gone out of control, not to mention my stomach. I’ve dreamt that they killed my father, that I’ve joined a guerilla movement, that they’ve burned our house down. Today they took me to the “Galerias” mall to “distract” me, but I felt bad being there. I was ashamed. I felt remorse that other were suffering at the barricades, getting wet and eating badly. Supposedly I’m in a safe place and I don’t want to leave my room. I don’t trust anyone, and I’m afraid to be on a road where cars are going by. Two months ago, I couldn’t have imagined feeling that way. I feel despair: in agony every night and hopeless every morning. Previously, I marched in all the demonstrations, now I don’t even want to leave the room. I’m full of fear.
If you feel that you need to talk with someone about what you’re feeling, we recommend that you contact @Sanar_nic. This is a collective of psychologists in the struggle to get well.” Their account “is open for confidential assistance.”