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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: May 2018

18 - Mental Health and Terrorism

from Part II - The Social Context of Mental Health and Illness: Introduction to Part II


This chapter investigates the amount of research interest in the relationship between mental health and terrorism. In addition, Johnson and colleagues have begun to identify the seminal research in the field as the frequency of publications increased allowing dominant and coherent trends of study to emerge. Both broad theoretical advances and focused conceptual refinements have been identified and discussed. The authors have also sought to identify the broader lacunae in the field and suggest future directions for research. Their results reveal that the dramatic increase in research focusing on the topics of terrorism and mental health reached their highpoints five to ten years after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. The first highpoint occurred after five years with respect to health and terrorism specifically, while research on terrorism in general continued to rise in the social science literature for another five years before its first major descent was recorded in 2012. The reaction to those attacks themselves dominated much of the research. In addition to ongoing attention to mental health topics and risk behaviors occurring as a result of those attacks, a developing trend in positive outcomes such as post-traumatic growth (PTG) and especially resilience have been noted.

While the frequency of published research generally has started to wane in the second decade following the September 11 attacks, many of the questions raised by the research in the first decade remain unanswered. Will new tragedies in understudied parts of the world demand resurgence in research focusing on the association between mental health and terrorism, or will it take another crisis among Western nations (e.g., the current wave of refugees into Europe from non-European Union nations)? With waves of terrorism washing over large regions of the globe, what factors determine who and what topics are drawing the attention of mental health researchers? How would you define resilience in the face of terrorism and what examples of it can you provide? What work remains to be done on resilience to broaden its application to sociology?