MHPSS Needs of Relatives of Disappeared Persons in Mexico

Family members of victims of enforced disappearance go through a long emotional rollercoaster. In 2016, War Trauma conducted a needs assessment for the German development agency GIZ, researching the psychosocial needs of relatives of disappeared persons in Mexico. “They tell me to stop searching, but I cannot. A mother has a heart for who is with us and who we lost.”

In Mexico, data show over 27,000 people have disappeared over the last decade because of the ongoing conflict between the police and army and the drug cartels as well as the competition between the cartels. The Institute for Strategic Studies estimates the Mexican drug war the second most deadly conflict at the moment, after the war in Syria.

War Trauma researched the psychosocial impacts of the disappearance of a family member, as well as the impact of the investigative and judicial process and the exhumation and forensic processes. Relatives don’t feel themselves being taken serious by authorities, being told the person must be involved with drugs. The depressions, anxiety and sense of loss, also influences the relationship with other family members.

Sometimes when mass graves are found people are handed remains. For example, authorities provided one parent with several bones saying: these are the remains of your child. DNA tests later showed that the remains were from several different people, leaving the relatives with little trust in the forensic procedures. “They just give me a bone to shut up.”

Our needs assessment also showed what relatives felt they needed most and what support providers though relatives needed most. Relatives preferred peer support, while providers thought relatives needed support during search efforts and during and after exhumations.

Another issue highlighted by the assessment is the need for staff support. There are only around 50 psychologists within Mexico providing mental health and psychosocial support to relatives of disappeared persons. With the high number of people in need, and given the complicated social context of the problem, they are at risk of accumulated stress and burn out.

GIZ will use the assessment to improve the mental health care and psychosocial support for relatives of disappeared persons in Mexico.