Sub-Saharan Africa

Combatting the effects of trauma in war-torn South Sudan

South Sudan

Since 2016, we’ve worked with local partners to bring mind-body medicine to thousands impacted by ongoing war and conflict.

In South Sudan, the violent and brutal war has put millions of women, men, and children at risk. People continue to live with the horrors of the past and the uncertainties of the future, as well as the stresses of everyday life. Virtually all of the population has witnessed war. Many have lost family, friends, and neighbors. All have had their lives significantly disrupted. People are dying and not only from hunger and violence. Food is often replaced by alcohol and lack of hope for any change makes many resort to violence. Anger, frustration, fear, and despair cause people to isolate themselves. Families are losing their members to depression, self-neglect, and suicides. Hopelessness is endemic.

South Sudanese hospitals and health clinics are overrun with people in need of mental health care. Neither the government nor local or international NGOs have the capacity to address the need. Dr. Atong Ayuel Longar, Director for Mental Health, South Sudan Ministry of Health, shared with CMBM, “I am 1 of 3 psychiatrists for the whole country. Having gone through a long war, people are traumatized and subjected to a variety of mental illnesses…which they end up self-medicating themselves by using illicit drugs. This is the vicious cycle.”

Our Work

In 2016, Anyieth D’Awol, a South Sudanese human rights lawyer, came to CMBM feeling “broken,” under a dark cloud of death and destruction. She, however, had the will and openness to use CMBM’s program of self-awareness, self-care, and group support to explore, learn from, and grow beyond her pain. She was aware of the moments joy had left her and when fear and anger entered. Anyieth lost a lot in the war.

In her first mind-body medicine training, Anyieth cried and laughed. She spoke from her heart and felt the burden lift from her shoulders. She looked deep inside, expressed herself, calmed her mind, felt her body again, and came to terms with what life brought her.

Practical stress-reduction techniques helped many feel felt relieved and relaxed – many for the first time in years. “The problems of South Sudan fill you up,” said a leader of the Women’s Union. “Soft Belly [a Mind-Body technique based on slow, deep breathing] helped me breathe through the problems so I could sleep.”

When James S. Gordon, MD, Founder and CEO of CMBM, and Musarrat Al-Azzeh, former Program Director, joined Anyieth in South Sudan, they created a workshop that included members of warring parties coming together to create a pre-transitional government, as well as leaders of the Women’s Union, religious leaders, Ministry of Health, Juba Teaching Hospital and Military Hospital physicians, military personnel, local and international non-profit staff, including Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative, ISRAid, USAID, and local government representatives. These groups are all aware that they need tools to address and treat this psychological crisis. They see that the CMBM approach is an ideal way to do this, and are eager to partner with us to accomplish this as soon as possible.


Looking Forward

CMBM proposes to bring an evidence-based program of population-wide psychological healing and resilience-building to South Sudan. We will train 100 service providers and community members to create a primary mental health care that will over time form the basis of a system of care that will serve hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese. The program will address the devastating psychological impact of decades of war and violence—sharp increases in suicide, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress—as well as burnout and secondary trauma among caregivers. The mental health gap in South Sudan is huge. A mind-body medicine program will help South Sudanese build resilience and increase local capacity to address large-scale psychological trauma.

CMBM Faculty Anyieth D’Awol, in an interview with UN radio, speaks about CMBM and bringing our trauma relief model to leaders in Juba, South Sudan.