The University Record, April 19, 1999

Study to examine prevalence, mental health effects of torture in South Africa

By Diane Swanbrow
News and Information Services

Researchers at the Institute for Social Research (ISR) have received a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to study the prevalence and mental health effects of racial and political violence in South Africa in the past.

According to principal investigator David R. Williams, professor of sociology and senior research scientist at ISR, the survey will examine the effects of acts of discrimination, experienced by most Black South Africans under apartheid, as well as the effects of political imprisonment, torture and loss of a loved one.

"Violence in many forms was commonplace in South Africa," notes Williams, "but its mental health consequences on both victims and perpetrators have not been systematically assessed. We plan to do this using a large, nationally representative sample of adults, with appropriate use of targeted comparisons and statistical controls."

In addition to examining the impact of discrimination and violence, the study also will examine coping strategies and their link to mental health and reactions to stress. Researchers also will investigate the impact of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)--designed to provide a non-judicial public venue for identifying discriminatory activities occurring under the apartheid system--on the mental health of South Africans.

The study, scheduled to start this month, will be carried out in close collaboration with ISR associate research scientist Mick Couper, and researchers at Harvard University and the Medical University of South Africa's National School of Public Health. The study also has the support of Bishop Desmond Tutu of the TRC, Williams notes.