Terrorism: mental health of civilians

By Ayesha Fakhar

Terrorism has been widespread across the world and the impact of chronic terrorism on targeted societies has created mayhem in the entire world and is escalating with every passing day. The world today is unfortunately unpredictable, uncontrollable and not an orderly place to live in and sadly terrorism is a hostile activity specially aimed at civilians, with the purpose of advancing a specific agenda, political or other. Terrorism’s main aim has been to disrupt ordinary life and spread fear and maximise chaos and panic in societies as a whole. It aims to transform both the emotions and the behaviours of large populations through widespread dissemination of fear and psychological distress.

Terrorism is psychological warfare and behavioural, psychological disturbance and chaos is the ultimate goal of a terrorist. The main objective of terrorism seen these days is to terrorise and spread panic among masses in various societies. According to the US Department of State, terrorism is premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents usually intended to influence an audience. It is also seen as the intentional use of violence real or threatened against one or more non-combatants and/or those services essential for or protective of their health, resulting in adverse health effects in those immediately affected and their community, ranging from a loss of well-being or security to injury, illness, or death.

Terrorism’s main goal is to disrupt ordinary life, fostering fear and helplessness in the population. Terrorism is a leading public safety concern in many parts of the world and nowadays it is a concerning issue in Pakistan as well. The Quetta blast a month ago outside a civil hospital was an act of terror erasing a large number of the lawyer community and media personnel. It not only generated devastation among the population but paralysed the entire nation. This is not the first time an act of cowardice has taken place in our country, and somewhat become a norm now and the consequences of terrorist attacks go far beyond death and destruction. The effects of terrorism are not limited to its actual victims. They are unfortunately far- and wide-ranging. They include the direct and indirect psychological effects upon the population, the psychosocial and political impact of terrorist attacks.

The effects of chronic terrorism also known as repeated attacks vary greatly from one off-terrorist attack i.e. single terrorist attacks. A society’s reaction and response to a single large scale terrorist attack is very different than the response to repeated, smaller scale attacks. But it is not relative. A state like ours is an example of repeated exposure, direct and indirect, to deadly terrorist attacks and the population is living with the constant possibility of sudden violent death which has affected our society severely.

Psychologically speaking there is a wide range of psychosocial effect of terrorist attacks on targeted societies. In these times it is however, unlikely, to completely eradicate terrorism — a type of violence whose history dates back thousands of years which has now been a serious theme of conversation around the world. But it is essential that we devote more of our energies on the psychopathological implications of terrorism on targeted masses. The main objective of a terrorist is to inculcate public fear, panic, chaos, anxiety and distress among the general population of various societies by which they accomplish their political strategies.

Psychological responses to terrorism are a mixture of reactions towards the trauma and also towards a constant fear of being a victim to a traumatic event in the future. Such reactions vary among individuals depending upon the extent of personal damage in any form, proximity to the place where the act has been committed, brutality of the event, coping styles, likely expectation of afuture repetition and the chronicity of the threat scenario. Psychological trauma not only leads to disturbance in the mental equilibrium causing maladaptive behaviour but also results in diagnosable psychiatric disorders. A large number of individuals report medically unexplained physical and psychological symptoms.

The terrorist attacks significantly affect the mental health of the individuals. They become depressed anxious and worried. These feelings of depression also affect their behaviour. They feel emotionally upset, sad, nervous, and stressed most of the time and an abrupt disinterest in their daily activities are clearly visible. The current stream of terrorism has made them more concerned about the safety of their families as well as their own. There is a need to offer an empathic, non-judgmental, collaborative approach to help these ailing individuals to achieve a better level of adjustment.

Effective post-terrorist public health interventions require the recognition that behavioural consequences are, in fact, the intent of terrorists.The last decade has seen the escalation of instability, insecurity and political violence in the country as a result of Pakistan’s role as a “forefront state” in the Global War on Terrorism. As a matter of fact, it would not be wrong to imply that Pakistan is paying a huge price in this war on terrorism at the cost of its sovereignty and survival. It has been isolated and is looked down upon as a country that is not doing enough and however sadly, most of the population suffers from these symptoms therefore serious action should be taken in order to improve the life quality of people of our country. The sooner we realise the gravity of this problem and develop a national and public accord on defeating terrorism and identifying the enemies in this regard, the better.

The original source of this article is Pakistantoday