Life Feeds on Hope: Family Mental Health, Culture, and Resilience in Afghanistan

For many outsiders, Afghanistan encapsulates the ongoing brutality of war, the misery of poverty, and the basic violation of many human rights. Violent conflict and population displacement have disrupted access to health care, steady employment, and formal education. Young Afghans grow up in environments characterized by violence, poverty, and deep-seated inequalities: they live and breathe a noxious combination of violent conflict, economic stressors, gender discrimination, ethnic divisions, and widening social gaps. In this context, risks to health are multiple and multifaceted, as well as socially produced and perpetuated.

Afghan families, however, have demonstrated a striking fortitude in coping with political, social, and economic adversity that ranges from irksome everyday stressors to traumatic life events. With state governance showing little clarity of purpose, the family has proven the only stable institution available to provide networks of support (Dupree 2004). Families are the primary resource for structuring individual and collective life—and for structuring all instrumental aspects of child development, health, education, social, and economic advancement. In terms of their fortitude in facing adversity, the people of Afghanistan could be held up as a prime example of collective resilience, an everyday resilience embedded in the social contexts of family and community networks.

Some questions remain. How do these general points play out in the lives of actual people? What kinds of evidence do we look for when characterizing health and resilience? From a policy standpoint, what kinds of risks need to be addressed, and what kinds of material, social, and political resources need to advocated?

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