Young girl in a War Child programme in Sri Lanka. Credit Jeppe Schilder/War Child Holland

How war can have life altering consequences

Living within a war zone and experiencing the horrific realities of conflict can have life-altering consequences to someone’s life.

The consequences of living in conflict occur in a multitude of ways. Physical injuries, loss of entire communities, and embarking on life-threatening journeys to seek refuge elsewhere are all too common. 

However, another, often invisible, impact of war and conflict, is the lasting psychological effect. 

The death of her husband, my father, was devastating for her. 

I was born during the Sri Lankan Civil War and left the country at a young age to seek refuge in the UK. 

But my mother was around 10 years of age when she witnessed a non-violent struggle transform into a what would become a civil war that lasted over 30 years. 

In this blog, I share my mother’s experiences and their corresponding emotional repercussions. 

As modern conflicts deepen and become more violent it is vitally important we acknowledge the long-term and inter-generational mental health implications of war. 

 Boy in War Child Holland programme in Sri Lanka. Credit Jeppe Schilder/War Child Holland
Boy in War Child Holland programme in Sri Lanka.

Many Sri Lankans during the war were displaced. 

Increasing brutality in the conflict forced them to flee to safety. 

Uncertainty was incredibly high and my mum did not know if she would have to flee later that day, the next, the following week, or ever. 

Trying to feel stable and safe was impossible, which was intensified by the crippling anxiety regularly felt by my mum. 


Not knowing if you’d be alive the next day was another common fear. 

One of the devastating consequences of the war for her was the death of her husband, who was my father. 

Not only did she become a single parent to a baby that was barely a month old, there was also the social stigma of being a woman who had lost her husband. 

The expectations on her behaviour and how she should present herself was an incredibly isolating experience. 

For example, the pottu, a red dot worn on the forehead, is something that a woman who had lost her husband should not wear: it’s widely considered a sign of marriage. 

My mum had not taken this off. 

She did not see the need to. 

People gossiped and slandered her, tarnishing her and her family’s reputation. Being portrayed as promiscuous, not someone in mourning, further alienated her and greatly impacted her mental state. 

A girl sat outside a War Child Holland programme in Sri Lanka. Credit Jeppe Schilder/War Child Holland
Jeppe Schilder/War Child Holland

Depression and suicidal thoughts followed. 

How she lived was shaped significantly by the passing of my father. 

It was a turning point. 

Dealing with another loss would’ve been unbearable, she tells me, and a possible cause of her being so protective over me while growing up. 

Counselling would have proved incredibly useful in helping to overcome her mental struggles. 

Without that, however, having strong support systems in helping to raise me was so important. 


She was lucky. 


Yet, for many women, they’re not so much. 

Witnessing such atrocities was haunting for people like my mother and many others. 

Extending this thought to the mental health provisions of children, or lack thereof, it’s important to ensure that strong familial connections are established. 

During times of conflict feeling incredibly isolated, disillusioned and disheartened is expected. 

Support from family and friends is so vital during these periods. 

Especially as experiences of war can sometimes lead to trauma that can potentially prove debilitating later on in life. 

Support that is present or accessed soon after an event means any emotional damage can be more easily processed. 

The final stages of the Civil War in 2009 saw the killings of tens of thousands of people. 

Witnessing such atrocities was haunting for people like my mother and many others. 

Carrying such a weight of the experience becomes a daily burden. 

But voices remain silent. 

Trauma remains unaddressed. 

All part of a reluctance to relive such terrifying life episodes and the absence of a support system. 

The latter meaning life-altering incidents continue to torture the minds of millions, or lay dormant to only relive such horrors in the future. 

This is one of the reasons why War Child’s work is so important. 

Providing child friendly spaces where children can learn and overcome their experiences, working with parents to help them support their family’s wellbeing and reuniting children with their family after being separated by conflict.