Objective: The aim of the study was to investigate the long-term effects of torture in a group of former political prisoners.
Method: The study was carried out in Istanbul, Turkey, where 55 Turkish political activists who had been tortured were compared with a closely matched group of 55 activists who had not been tortured. The Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-III-R, the Semistructured Interview for Survivors of Torture, and other self-rated and assessor-rated measures of anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were used. The tortured and the nontortured activists were similar in age, sex, marital and socioeconomic status, political ideology, political involvement, stressful life events other than torture, and other features.
Results: The torture survivors reported an average of 291 exposures to a mean of 23 forms of torture. The mean length of their imprisonment was 47 months. The survivors of torture had significantly more symptoms of PTSD and anxiety/depression than the nontortured comparison subjects, although their PTSD symptoms were only moderately severe and their general mood was normal. Despite the severity of their torture experiences, the survivors had only a moderate level of psychopathology.
Conclusions: The results suggest that torture has long-term psychological effects independent of those related to uprooting, refugee status, and other traumatic life events in a politically repressive environment. Prior knowledge of and preparedness for torture, strong commitment to a cause, immunization against traumatic stress as a result of repeated exposure, and strong social supports appear to have protective value against PTSD in survivors of torture.