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How Terrorism Affects Mental Health

A terrorism act shocked many on May 22nd 2017 at the end of Ariana Grande’s concert. An exciting event became a tragedy with 23 people being killed and over 800 injured physically and psychologically. Terrorist attacks like this happen frequently and still are going on worldwide, despite the impact it significantly has on our politics, economy, and socialization. Terrorism also has a complex mental health effect. Not only visible attacks on lives and properties are brought by terrorism. Psychological warfare is also a “byproduct” of terrorism.

Terrorism is a global concern and it disrupts our way of life, punching holes in our mental defenses. Scientists studying the impact of terrorism agree that it’s not only actual destruction and injury, but the threat of violence and ensuing psychological effects. The consequences of a terrorist attack are that people feel more vulnerable. The mistrust rises, and cities go on alert to prevent the threat of future attacks. It also has an impact on people’s behavior, leading them to make different decisions about employment, whom to socialize with, using public transportation, and congregating in public and crowded places [1].

Research studies have pointed out that terrorism has a strong association with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, mood disorders, alcohol abuse and risky behaviors. According to Whalley and Brewin, following terrorist events, the general population can be divided into those that have investigated the prevalence of ‘substantial stress’ (the presence of a predetermined level of psychological symptoms and those that have attempted to estimate the prevalence of diagnosable psychiatric disorder [2].

A 2004 retrospective study examined post-traumatic stress disorder rates in the victims after bombings in France. They found that 31% experienced post-traumatic stress disorder and the symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares or intrusive thoughts about the event. People may also avoid situations that remind them of the trauma, or have intense feelings of anxiety they didn’t have before [1]. A group of studies have reported on the mental health of people with direct experience of a terrorist attack, and PTSD seems to be the most common disorder attributable to the attack, followed by depression [3].

Generally, psychological effects are seen commonly after any form of mass violence. That is to say, any terrorism act, by the nature of its very purpose, leaves a lingering impact on those who are either its victim or witness. The results of a study on the impacts of terrorism on mental health by Khan showed that females are more concerned about the threat of terrorism than men. Their major cause of worry can be backed up with the fact that preparation is not enough to deal with terrorism. Similarly, there is a significant difference among the attitudes of men and women regarding terrorism. As compared to men, most of the women thought that terrorism is psychological in nature, as it is meant to cause psychological suffering by creating more fear and distress [4].

There are fewer studies of children's responses to terrorism, but this does not mean their trauma does not exist. In fact, children and adolescents are more vulnerable to terrorism because of their developmental level, the type and degree of exposure to the trauma, and the nature of the aftermath including the horror, bereavement, and ongoing loss of stability and security. They also experience a range of responses during and following a catastrophic event ranging from PTSD, traumatic grief, depression, and anxiety to somatization [5].

Terrorist attacks significantly affect the mental health of the individuals. They became depressed, anxious and worried. These feelings of depression also affect their behavior. They feel emotionally upset, sad, nervous, and feel stress most of the time. Consequently, medical and psychological support is needed. A reasonable strategy could be victim follow-up, where mental health professionals would screen and treat persisting psychological trauma; implementation of good practice interventions with victims can be informed by a number of established guidelines including: (1) systematic assessment and documentation of problems; (2) psychological first aid; (3) targeted interventions; (4) pro-active follow-up; and (5) systematic evaluation (Antonius, 2015).


1. Antonius, D. (2015). When fear is a weapon: how terror attacks influence mental health. Retrieved from

2. Whalley, M. G., & Brewin, C. R. (2007). Mental health following terrorist attacks. Br J Psychiatry, 190, 94-96. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.106.026427

3. Miguel-Tobal, J., Cano-Vindel, A., Iruarrizaga, M., Ordi, H., & Galea, S. (2005). Psychopathological repercussions of the March 11 terrorist attacks in Madrid. Psychology in Spain, ISSN 1137-9685, Nº. 9, 2005, pags. 75-80.

4. Khan, A. M., Sarhandi, I., Hussain, J., Iqbal, S., & Taj, R. U. (2012). Impact of Terrorism on Mental Health.

5. Wooding, S., & Raphael, B. (2004). Psychological impact of disasters and terrorism on children and adolescents: experiences from Australia. Prehosp Disaster Med, 19(1), 10-20. doi:10.1017/s1049023x00001436




Author: Yipaerguli Mohetaer

Editor: Kayjah Taylor

Health Scientist: Hira Mughal



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