BOKO HARAM WAR: NIGERIAN MILITARY DEPLOYS PSYCHOLOGISTS TO WARFRONT AS DEPRESSION TAKES TOLL ON SOLDIERS

...psychologists deployed in the Theatre of Operation

Worried by depression and other cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among troops prosecuting the counter-insurgency war in the North-East, the Armed Forces of Nigeria has established a psychological counselling unit in the theatre of operation.

Some troops deployed in the theatre of operations have shown signs of depression and lethargy, ostensibly due to stress from the long period of battling suspected terrorist elements in the troubled region.

There had been complaints of authorities not implementing the time-honoured policy of rotating fighting troops, who may have spent up to six months in the frontline, in some cases.

Less than a week ago, a soldier deployed in Army Super Camp 15, Malam Fatori, shot and killed four of his colleagues, while injuring two others.

This came even when the dust had yet to settle over the killing of police personnel in Gwoza Local Government of Borno State, sometime last month.

But, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) has assured that adequate measures had been put in place, to stem the growing incident.

Acting Director of Defence Information (DDI), Brig-Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu, who spoke with New Telegraph on the development, said psychologists had been deployed in the Theatre of Operation, with a view to offering effective counselling services to fighting troops.

“I must say the Malam Fatori incident is a very disheartening and disturbing one. Investigations have commenced to unravel the reasons for the soldier’s action.

“Not to pre-empt on-going investigations however, it may suffice for now to say that due to the operational environment, some personnel over time manifest some physiological, psychological or emotional breakdown.

“These conditions may be in the form of anxiety, depression, trauma and stress related concerns in aspects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and acute stress as well as psychosomatic complains. It could also manifest in the form of suicidal ideation and behaviour. Sadly, these are all psychological and physiological side effects of war,” the DDI said.

According to him, “Having come to the realization of these challenges, the AFN, in 2015, established a Psychological Counselling Unit in the North-East theatre of operation and deployed psychologists to cater for the mental health needs of troops in the theatre of operations through counselling and psychotherapy, a curative approach to mental health. The psychologists also conduct daily ward rounds for troops on admission in the sector hospitals regardless of the nature of their present complaints.

“Mental health debriefings are also conducted for troops during pre-deployment training into the Theatre at the Nigerian Army Special Forces School, Buni Yadi and on completion of their tour of duty in the theatre, during the de-induction phase. These briefings bother mostly on aspects of trauma, adjustment, family reunification and relationships, coping and resiliency building and substance abuse.

“Additionally, routine theatre counselling tours are conducted by the psychologists in the theatre collectively. They visit troops in their various locations across all sectors to deliver mental health talks, crisis intervention and counselling. After the exercise, a robust report is produced on the conduct of the tour highlighting germane issues and given follow up.

“Psychological assessment is also conducted by psychologists using psychological survey instruments, which are routinely forwarded to units through their respective medical facilities to be completed by personnel. These instruments bother on identified mental health challenges faced by troops in the theatre and provide evidence-based approach towards mental health needs of troops in the theatre.

“Referrals to mental health facilities outside the theatre are also granted when recommended by the professionals.”

In the meantime, the DHQ has said that there are different categories of troops on Operation Lafiya Dole mission.

Nwachukwu, while reacting to allegations of non-rotation of some soldiers, said in rotating the forces, care is often applied so as not to jeopardise the on-going war.

He further disclosed that some from formations domiciled in the theatre of operations, are not expected to be rotated.

“The Armed Forces is very concerned about the issue of troops’ rotation, but it must be conducted in such a manner that will not jeopardise or compromise on-going counter terrorism and counter insurgency operations. There should never be a vacuum permitting the adversary to take advantage.

“Rotation of troops in the theatre of operation is on the basis of first to be inducted, first to be de-inducted. This is a standing and established grand norm. There are, however, some formations that are originally domiciled in the theatre of operation because that is their location going by the deployments in the Order of Battle.

“Personnel in such formations are not rotated, but could be posted by their Corps. These formations and the battalions under them were originally established in their current locations in the North-East in accordance with the deployment provided in the Order of Battle as they are formations with special capabilities and equipment to function in that terrain.

“We are mindful of possible effects of war fatigue and related challenges and are executing troops’ rotation as planned,” the Defence spokesperson said.

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