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Historical background of Stockholm syndrome

Q: What is the historical background of the Stockholm syndrome?

A:A number of studies have looked at the impact of terrorist attacks which, whilst relatively infrequent, in comparison to other crimes, have a considerable political and social impact. The extent of physical injury during a terrorist attack is the best predicator of post-traumatic stress disorder rates in both the short term and at follow-up many years after the event, although it does not predict the development of a depressive illness. In Northern Ireland, Loughrey et al and Curran et al have found significant numbers of those with direct experience of terrorist incidents to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. However, Fraser and Lyons failed to detect a relationship between terrorist violence and mental health problems in the general population. Studies which have looked at the impact of shooting tend, by their very nature to be small scale, but have found significant levels of distress and high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychiatric disorders. Classen et al found that 33 per cent of their sample met the criteria for a diagnosis of acute stress disorder at the first assessment and that this was predictive of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms at follow-up several months later. Similarly, being held hostage has been related to high levels of distress both in victims and their families. Van der Ploeg and Kliejn found that, while about a third of subjects reported problems, two-thirds of these were not seen as needing any intervention. Where captivity has occurred, there may be strong attachment and paradoxical gratitude towards the captors with positive emotions including compassion and identification with the terrorist’s values, often described as the Stockholm syndrome.

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