Long-Term Mental Sequelae of Political Imprisonment in East Germany


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Abstract

This paper presents an assessment of the long-term mental sequelae of prolonged stress due to political persecution and imprisonment in the German Democratic Republic. Fifty-five former political prisoners with enduring psychiatric disorders were examined retrospectively in an exploratory study. The patients' experiences before, during, and after imprisonment were investigated using a semistructured interview. Psychopathological symptoms were assessed on clinical and self-rating scales; diagnostic classification was conducted according to DSM-III-R. The patients had experienced serious trauma, including psychological torture, long-term imprisonment, and solitary confinement. We diagnosed a characteristic syndrome involving symptoms of depression and anxiety with vegetative complaints and increased arousal. In 35 (64%) patients, the symptoms persisted over an extended period without improvement. This syndrome resembles psychiatric disorders found after other forms of political persecution. It may be concluded that prolonged individually experienced political stress situations, even if they are not life-threatening, may have long-term mental sequelae.

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