The Prisoner of War: Coping with the Stress of Isolation
NAVAL HEALTH RESEARCH CENTER SAN DIEGO CA
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Compared with the American prisoner of war POW experience in past wars, one of the unique aspects of the Southeast Asian POW experience was the longer duration of the captivity coupled with extended periods of solitary confinement. Social isolation produces stress and, although persistence of the effects of stress in short-term experimental isolation may last only a matter of hours or days, it has been suggested that prolonged extreme stress may have permanent effects. The 100 POWS in this study were the total population of Navy and Marine Corps returnees who had been held captive in Southeast Asia for at least five years or longer. This study examined the relationship between the returnees degree of social isolation during captivity and their mental status at the time of repartriation. Comparisons were made between the group of 50 men who had experienced social isolation lasting seven months or less and the group of 50 Navy and Marine returnees who had been subjected to more than seven months social isolation using the psychiatrists ratings for each man on his initial medical evaluation. A number of statistically significant between-group differences with respect to abnormal psychiatric ratings were found and are discussed.