Christophe Ena Associated Press Women marched in the streets of Paris on Friday to demand the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas.
Will the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, a first group of whom were released on Friday, manage to recover psychologically? Difficult to answer, according to experts, as the ability to recover after such an ordeal varies unpredictably from one person to another.
“Not all people who come out of captivity […] develop post-traumatic stress or other mental disorders, but this is the case for a significant minority,” British psychiatrist Neil Greenberg explains to AFP, specialist in psychological trauma.
The question arises as around ten hostages, women and children, were released on Friday as part of a truce concluded between Israel and Palestinian Hamas. They were captive of the latter, in Gaza, for a month and a half; The agreement provides for the release of a total of 50 hostages in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners. Around 240 people were kidnapped in Israel on October 7, during the Hamas attack which caused the deaths of 1,200 people, the vast majority civilians, according to Israeli authorities.
What aftereffects will these hostages be left with? And, without there being any question of comparing the traumas, is there a psychological specificity compared to other experiences, such as the bombings by Israel on Gaza, the cause of many civilian deaths?
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In general, “there are no symptoms of post-traumatic stress that are specific to hostages,” says Mr. Greenberg. On the other hand, the very experience of a hostage presents particularities likely to serve as a spring for future unrest: isolation, potential humiliations, feeling of powerlessness… In addition, hostage-taking, through the media coverage which they often receive the subject, particularly highlight the capacity of the victims to recover or not.
Some have sunk, like the journalist Brice Fleutiaux, who ended his life in 2001, shortly after being held hostage in Chechnya, or heir John Paul Getty III, who never recovered from his kidnapping in Italy in the 1970s as a child, and spiraled into a spiral of addictions that left him quadriplegic until his death.
Without being as dramatic, a vast series of post-traumatic symptoms have been recorded among former hostages: difficulty concentrating and memory loss, bouts of depression or anxiety, withdrawal from social life.
Difficult to study
But the victims still tend to regain control of their lives, and some former hostages, as paradoxical as it may seem, ultimately experience positive consequences from their experience on a psychological level.
How to explain these differences? Psychiatrists struggle to answer and admit that it is difficult to know in advance whether one hostage is more likely than another to develop mental disorders. “We have not clearly delineated the factors that lead to an unfavorable outcome after a hostage-taking,” admitted in 2009 the authors of a summary on the subject, in the journal of the British Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) .
However, some possible risk factors have been identified: being a woman, having a low level of education, having been sequestered for a long time, etc. But this work is dated and research is difficult to carry out on the subject. “For ethical and practical reasons, particularly when children are involved, it is difficult to follow up with hostages after their release,” the RSM summary explains, highlighting the risk of reactivating trauma by interviewing former hostages. “The medical and scientific data are therefore relatively modest. »
Many studies are based on autobiographies of former hostages, a necessarily limited point of view. Research also exists on former prisoners of war, a situation similar but not equivalent to hostages.
One element, finally, complicates the monitoring of psychological after-effects: the disorders can take a long time to emerge.
“It can resurface one year, two years, 10 years later, and it is absolutely unpredictable,” explains psychiatrist Christine Roullière, a specialist in post-traumatic disorders, to AFP, who particularly emphasizes the need for support as soon as a hostage is released. We must “immediately allow the person to verbalize what they may have experienced,” she insists. “It’s a way of putting back into the thread of one’s life the extraordinary events that took him to the other side of the looking glass. The objective is to support the return to the world of the living. »