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Long-term effects of political imprisonment: a group comparison study.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Dresden University of Technology, Germany. maercker@tudurz.urz.tu-dresden.de


The study investigated the long-term effects of political imprisonment in the former German Democratic Republic. A group of non-treatment-seeking former political prisoners (n = 146) was compared with an age- and sex-matched group (n = 75). Assessments included the structured Diagnostic Interview for Psychiatric Disorders (German abbreviation: DIPS) for DSM-III-R/-IV diagnoses, a checklist of persecution and maltreatment, and other self-rated measures of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and dissociation. PTSD was assessed by the DIPS as current and lifetime diagnoses. Former political prisoners were imprisoned for 38 months on average. The former prisoners had a lower educational and lifetime occupational level than the comparison group. Results regarding diagnoses show a frequency of 30% current and 60% lifetime PTSD in the former prisoners group. Other anxiety disorders (e.g., claustrophobia, social phobia) outnumbered comorbid affective disorders. The level of dissociation was elevated in the former prisoners group. Intrusive recollections and hyperarousal were more common than avoidance/numbing symptoms. Despite differences in imprisonment duration between three historically defined eras of persecution, no differences appeared in the level of symptomatology. The results suggest that political imprisonment in the former German Democratic Republic had long-term psychological effects. Compared with an age- and sex-matched comparison group, the former political prisoners showed higher levels not only of post-traumatic symptomatology but also of other anxiety disorders and dissociation.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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