Psychologists and trauma experts said Sunday that they expect kidnapped IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit could suffer severe psychological trauma at the hands of his captors and that the longer he is held in captivity the more severe his mental injuries will become.
Talking to The Jerusalem Post, Dr. Hanoch Yerushalmi, Senior Clinical Psychologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Psychology Department, said that being held for long periods of time in isolation can really push to the limits a person's ability to stay sane.
"Isolation is one of the worst factors to endanger a person's sanity and well-being," said Yerushalmi. "It can really drive anyone crazy and if he is cut off from the world it can only worsen an already severe situation."
"Surviving such an attack, witnessing the loss of his buddies and being injured himself is already shocking and traumatic enough," he continued. "He was taken against his will and has now been kept for more than a week with no contact with the outside world except for his captors. Without knowing the personality of this soldier I can see this is an extremely traumatic experience."
Yerushalmi also said that if Shalit is released he will need to be examined to determine the status of his mental health.
He added, however, that some people do seem to find a hidden strength to cope with such stressful situations. The overall effects, said Yerushalmi, really depend on the individual character of the person and whether they are aware that something is being done to help them.
"Some people are successful at disassociating themselves from a traumatic situation and this can be very helpful in surviving and keeping sane," said Yerushalmi, an expert in the field of the psychological experiences of soldiers. "As time goes by, however the trauma accumulates."
"The longer it lasts the more intense the psychological effects," concurred Dr. Danny Brom, head of the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma. "The resources the person has in his immediate environment may help him to cope with what is going on."
Brom, an expert in post-traumatic stress syndrome who addressed the US Congress on the subject following the September 11 terrorist attacks, added that the "survival of the person kidnapped chiefly depends on the people who are around you and how they behave." He also warned against Stockholm Syndrome, in which the person kidnapped gets friendly with his or her captors, though Yerushalmi did not believe such a syndrome was applicable in this case.
"Brainwashing is something that takes a very long time," he said. "I am not sure that [Shalit's] kidnappers are sophisticated or experienced enough to administer this very complicated process." Yerushalmi said that while the army does prepare soldiers for certain hardships, it is nearly impossible to teach a person how to deal with the experience of being a prisoner of war.
"It is very difficult to simulate a situation of this kind or prepare someone for the stresses of captivity," finished Yerushalmi.