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In 1988, university students in Myanmar took to the streets in an effort to destabilize a entrenched military dictatorship—initiating the most prominent uprising in modern Burmese history. The apex of this movement is recognized as 8/8/88—the day soldiers opened fire on protesters to quell months-long demonstrations against the presiding regime. Students had long been at the forefront of Myanmar’s struggle for democracy, and 1988 marks the year that many were arrested, imprisoned, and tortured through a series of military raids. This preliminary study compares perceptions of suffering between activists (N=20) who were university students during 1988 and more exposed to political violence on campuses (‘88 condition) with those who were high school students and less exposed to concentrated political violence (comparison condition). This comparison was understood through interviews that elicit idioms of distress, or culturally resonant ways of experiencing and expressing distress in local settings (Nichter, 1981). Afterwards, idioms were categorized according to the following explanatory models: affective/cognitive, social/environmental, religious, and somatic. The participants also completed the General-Help Seeking Questionnaire (GHSQ) (Wilson, Deane, & Ciarrochi, 2005), which evaluates help-seeking intentions for a variety of formal and informal help sources, including familial networks, mental health professionals/general practitioners, and religious leaders. The goal of this research is to 1) test the feasibility of a comprehensive study on idioms of distress in Myanmar 2) elucidate under-researched expressions of psychological distress in the Burmese language, and 3) identify pathways for mental policy and interventions that account for a legacy of political violence in this country. The results showed that affective/cognitive idioms of distress were the most commonly used in both groups and notably reflect the psychosocial theme of political violence among participants in the ‘88 condition. In addition, the difference between GHSQ scores of the ‘88 condition and those of the comparison condition were not statistically significant--suggesting that participants demonstrate similar levels of willingness to seek help for psychological distress.
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Thuyein, Mady, "Idioms of Distress in Myanmar" (2019). Senior Projects Spring 2019. 8.