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Open Access Research

Long-term consequences of traumatic experiences: an assessment of former political detainees in romania

Dana Bichescu12*, Maggie Schauer3, Evangelia Saleptsi1, Adrian Neculau2, Thomas Elbert13 and Frank Neuner13

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychology, University of Konstanz, Fach D-25, D-78457 Konstanz, Germany

2 Department of Psychology, University of Iasi, Blvd. Carol I, Nr. 11, Iasi, 700506 Romania

3 vivo, Cassela Postale no. 17, Castelplanio Stazione, I-60032 Ancona, Italy

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Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health 2005, 1:17  doi:10.1186/1745-0179-1-17

Published: 26 September 2005

Abstract

Background

Research has suggested that organized violence and torture have long-term psychological effects that persist throughout the lifespan. The present survey aimed at examining the prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other disorders and symptoms, all present in old age, as long-term consequences of politically motivated violence in a comparison design.

Methods

A group of former political detainees (N = 59, mean age 73.5 years) who had been arrested by the Romanian communist regime were compared to an age- and gender-matched control group (N = 39). PTSD was assessed using a structured clinical interview (CIDI). The investigation of the clinical profile was further accomplished by self-rating measures for anxiety, depression, and health-related functioning, as well as by clinician-administrated interviews for substance abuse, dissociation, and somatization symptoms.

Results

Lifetime prevalence of PTSD was 54%. In the case of participants left untreated, PTSD persisted, often over four decades, such that current PTSD was diagnosed still in a third of the survivors. Other clinical conditions such as somatization, substance abuse, dissociative disorders, and major depression were also common among the former political detainees and often associated with current PTSD.

Conclusion

Our findings suggest that political detention may have long-term psychological consequences that outlast the changes in the political system.