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Edited by J de Jong. (Pp 454; price not stated). Kluver Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York, 2002. ISBN 0-306-46709-7.
This is a valuable contribution to the scant literature on organising effective public mental health programmes for traumatised refugee or war-torn populations. The book focuses specifically on the public health aspects of complex humanitarian and political emergencies.
The editor opens the book with a long chapter on public mental health, emphasising culturally appropriate models. Especially valuable is the section on the objectives and selection of priorities for training and mental health interventions, with both excellent theoretical and practical aspects.
Nine chapters then follow, describing programmes that are supported by the Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation (TPO), of which Joop de Jong is the director. Each chapter opens with a description of the history and culture of the country and the current problems, which often have received minimal attention by the media, Western populations, and others. The populations described have been chronically traumatised by war, torture, hunger, rape, displacement, and often, wholesale destruction of their society and culture.
The authors of each chapter describe their attempts to assess and improve the mental and medical health of refugee populations, with mixed or no support from local governments. How they use local healers or other supports to build a network of interventions is a key element of each programme. Their frustrations and failures are also articulated.
The chapters vary in length and quantity. For example, “The Cambodian experience” is 64 pages long, and only the most dogged reader will persist to the end. Some of the chapters would have benefited by better editing by an English speaker.
In summary, the opening chapter of the book is an important contribution to the literature on public health and on traumatic stress. The chapters that follow will be of especial interest to those planning to set up similar programmes.