Terrorism and post-traumatic stress disorder: a historical review

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Abstract

Terror is a psychological state. Historically, most studies of terrorism focused on its societal purpose and structural consequences rather than mental health effects. That emphasis began to change shortly before the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A vast expansion of research into post-traumatic stress disorder accompanied revisions to the classification of mental health disorders. The effect of terrorist incidents on those people now deemed vulnerable, both directly and indirectly, was actively sought. However, a review of more than 400 research articles (mostly published after Sept 11) on the association between terrorism and mental health reached the largely overlooked conclusion that terrorism is not terrorising—at least not in a way that causes a greater than expected frequency of post-traumatic stress disorder than other traumatic events. This conclusion is surprising given the emphasis on the psychological effects of terrorism in political discourse, media commentary, contemporary culture, and academic inquiry. Authorities might prefer to encourage an interpretation of terrorist incidents that highlights fortitude and courage rather than psychological vulnerability.

LanguageEnglish
JournalThe Lancet Psychiatry
Early online date17 Oct 2018
DOIs
StatusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Oct 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry

Cite this

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abstract = "Terror is a psychological state. Historically, most studies of terrorism focused on its societal purpose and structural consequences rather than mental health effects. That emphasis began to change shortly before the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A vast expansion of research into post-traumatic stress disorder accompanied revisions to the classification of mental health disorders. The effect of terrorist incidents on those people now deemed vulnerable, both directly and indirectly, was actively sought. However, a review of more than 400 research articles (mostly published after Sept 11) on the association between terrorism and mental health reached the largely overlooked conclusion that terrorism is not terrorising—at least not in a way that causes a greater than expected frequency of post-traumatic stress disorder than other traumatic events. This conclusion is surprising given the emphasis on the psychological effects of terrorism in political discourse, media commentary, contemporary culture, and academic inquiry. Authorities might prefer to encourage an interpretation of terrorist incidents that highlights fortitude and courage rather than psychological vulnerability.",
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