Refugee trauma versus torture trauma: a retrospective controlled cohort study of Tibetan refugees

Holtz T.H. (1998). Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 186(1):24-34.

A retrospective cohort study of 35 refugee Tibetan nuns and lay students who were arrested and tortured in Tibet matched with 35 controls who were not arrested or tortured was carried out in India. Subjects were administered the Hopkins Checklist-25, evaluating anxiety symptoms, affective disturbances, somatic complaints, and social impairment. The prevalence of symptom scores in the clinical range for both cohorts was 41.4% for anxiety symptoms and 14.3% for depressive symptoms. The torture survivors had a statistically significant higher proportion of elevated anxiety scores than did the nontortured cohort(54.3% vs. 28.6%, p =.05). This was not true for elevated depressive scores. The results suggest that torture has long-term consequences on mental health over and above the effects of being uprooted, fleeing one's country, and living in exile as a refugee, though the additional effects were small. Political commitment, social support in exile, and prior knowledge of and preparedness for confinement and torture in the imprisoned cohort served to foster resilience against psychological sequelae. The contribution of Buddhist spirituality plays an active role in the development of protective coping mechanisms among Tibetan refugees.

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