Victims of Terrorism

What are victims of terrorism?

There are some violent crimes that, due to the way in which people have experienced them, generate terror and defenselessness, putting their physical and psychological integrity at risk. In this case, this crime or negative event can leave the person who suffers it in an unstable situation, who is unable to cope with it with his or her own resources.

It should be noted that there are three types of victims of terrorism.

  • Victims of professional responsibility, including lawyers, judges, police officers, military personnel…
  • Victims of moral and political responsibility: politicians and activists.
  • Random victims: those who were chosen “at random” or those who happened to be in a particular place at the time of the attack.

Possible repercussions of a terrorist attack

Apart from the physical damage that the victim may suffer -such as injuries or possible sequelae- in a good number of cases, the victims suffer psychological damage that interferes with and negatively affects their quality of life.

In the first instance, a series of immediate symptoms may occur after having been the victim of one of these attacks. In this case, these are symptoms that should disappear by themselves a few weeks after the attack, such as loss of appetite, insomnia, malaise… In the medium term, symptoms of anxiety and even depression are common, with a tendency to isolation, loss of self-esteem and lack of confidence to face what is to come.

There may be, in turn, a feeling of guilt, even creating a biased version of the facts of the attack, with the victim himself feeling responsible for not “helping enough” other victims, or even with a feeling of guilt for having survived when others have not managed to do so.

In turn, in the medium and long term, a series of behavioral disorders may appear in the victim, although not in all cases. In this case, there are usually problems of emotional dependence, irritability, introversion, victimizing attitudes…. These disorders can generate problems in the family environment. In turn, one of the usual signs of this are irritability and frustration in the face of daily life setbacks, such as annoying noises, everyday problems… These frustrations can translate into aggressive reactions, which are usually directed towards those closest to them or towards oneself, resulting in suicidal ideas and even situations of alcohol or substance abuse.

These traumatic events exceed the response capacity of the victim, who is unable to cope with all his psychological problems in this regard. In turn, feelings of resentment, hatred or desire for revenge appear, a fact that makes the person unable to accept the situation.

The terrorist attack does not only affect the person directly involved, but also has a direct influence on the victim’s family.

Why is the treatment of victims of terrorism carried out?

There are cases of people who have been involved in attacks and yet do not need counseling or psychological treatment. In these cases, the previous psychological balance, family and close environment support and/or the course of time itself help to overcome and accept the trauma experienced. Thus, in these cases – and despite living with painful memories – these victims manage to move forward and despite some emotional ups and downs, they can get involved in new projects, work and even enjoy their daily lives.

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However, in many other cases, victims of the terrorist attack find themselves “trapped” by the event and are unable to regain their appetite and sleep. In these cases, these people are often tormented by the event and have difficulty controlling their emotions and are unable to cope with the demands of everyday life. It is in these cases when they may adopt measures detrimental to their own health, such as self-medication, excessive alcoholic beverages…

It is in these cases in which the victim of the attack is overwhelmed by the trauma, when it is necessary to receive psychological help and in some cases, also pharmacology. Among these people, especially those with a history of psychopathological type whose attack has led to serious consequences after the attack, are alone, are in a precarious economic situation or who are immigrants in an unstable or irregular situation.

How to overcome a terrorist attack?

There are two options when it comes to treatment: immediate intervention after the crisis and psychological treatment afterwards.

In the case of the immediate crisis, in this case the victims of the attack will receive psychological care just a few days after the event. First of all, attention will be paid to the following:

  1. An initial assessment of the patient’s psychological damage, the variables that predispose this person to suffer the trauma, the degree of stress, coping strategies….
  2. Secondly, a practically immediate intervention will be carried out to deal with the immediate symptoms, as well as a series of measures to try to recover normality in the victim’s routines.
  3. Thirdly and finally, the persons most vulnerable to suffer a chronification of post-traumatic stress symptoms will be referred to specialized programs.

In the case of post-treatment, this is the care provided to a victim some time after the event, i.e. between one and two months later when the symptoms and reactions following the attack continue to be prolonged over time. Other cases in which the victim is referred is when he/she refuses to talk to anyone about the trauma, or because he/she isolates him/herself or is rejected by the members of his/her environment.

A good number of these people are reluctant to seek help from professionals, since in this case they would be recognizing a weakness in accepting help from the professional.

In those cases in which it is necessary, treatment should be initiated almost immediately, since early appropriate treatment prevents symptoms from becoming chronic and allows the victim to recover his or her usual rhythm of life.

Along the same lines, the treatment must have continuity over time and needs to be directed by the same specialist, as the patient needs to establish a relationship of trust with the patient. In addition, it must be limited in time, with treatments normally lasting between three and six months, although on some occasions it can last up to one year. However, there are special cases in which it can be extended for more months.

What specialist treats victims of terrorism?

Psychiatrists and psychologists are in charge of treating and helping those who have been affected by a terrorist attack.