Home Institution

Tufts University

Publication Date

Fall 2016

Program Name

Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment


Research Question: What are the trends seen in the mental health of the children of the people who were “disappeared” by the Pinochet dictatorship?

Objectives: The general objective of this study is to look for trends in the mental health of children of disappeared people. The specific objectives are to understand the particular stresses that come with disappearances versus other types of deaths, to gage the general opinion of the government’s system of reparation, and to identify common coping methods.

Background: Between the years of 1973-1990, Chile was under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. During this time, major human rights violations occurred as the dictator tried to eliminate anyone who was discovered to be associated with certain left-wing political parties. Thousands of people were imprisoned, exiled, or disappeared, and their children continue to be affected by the atrocities today.

Methodology:Seven interviews were conducted in Santiago during the month of November 2016. Three children of disappeared people were interviewed, as well as two psychologists, one social worker, and one ex-prisoner. The interviews were non-structured with open-ended questions that allowed interviewees to elaborate on their experiences. Although there were other types of victims of the dictatorship such as exiled people, political prisoners, and torture victims, this study only investigated the mental health of disappeared people’s children in order to remain focused.

Results: There were six principal results found in this study. These results are consequences of the disappearances that have an impact on the mental health of the children of disappeared people. The first is the idea of a permanent kidnapping of a loved one. Just like with a kidnapping, the families of the disappeared people did not have, and often still do not have, information about what happened to their loved one post-detention. There is no sense of closure for these families. The next two results were emotional and financial stress followed by the culture of silence in Chilean society and within affected families. Resilience and distrust in the government were the final two results.

Conclusions reached: The main conclusion of this study is that mental health of the children of disappeared people is affected in an intergenerational manner. The condition of being a disappeared person and the consequences of this situation affect the mental health of one’s children in various ways. The way in which a child of a disappeared person is affected depends upon his or her support network and ability to be resilient. Therefore, the factors that were found to affect mental health manifest themselves in different ways depending upon the subject.


Family, Life Course, and Society | Latin American History | Latin American Studies | Medicine and Health | Medicine and Health Sciences | Mental and Social Health | Other Mental and Social Health | Political History | Public Health


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