POW s with PTSD
Posted on March 17th, 2017

Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge

There are a number of POWs of the Eelam War who still carry the psychological scars. Most of them suffer from DDD Syndrome which was delineated by Farber Harlow in 1956. The DDD Syndrome consists of debility, dependency and dread. POWs often show depression, apathy suspicion and fear. Some have large memory gaps and still feel guilty about their POW days.

Lance Corporal U has served 17 years in the Sri Lanka Army. During the Balawegaya operation, he sustained a gun short injury to his leg and became immobile. When the enemy advanced, he could not move and hence he became a prisoner of war. When he was captured, he was severely beaten with the rifle butts and one LTTE senior carder pointed his weapon at him. He was subjected to a mock execution. However, one of the LTTE regional stopped the beatings and sent him for medical treatment.

When the medical treatment was over, he had to undergo vigorous interrogations. He was tortured to get information about his Camp and its inner structure, armory and guard points. He was handcuffed and kept in painful positions for long time. Frequently his guards physically assaulted and humiliated him. However, Lance Corporal U admits that there were some LTTE members who were kind to him and brought extra food sometimes.

From July 1991 to March 1995 L/Cpl U spent his life as a POW facing torture, humiliations and uncertainty. He was kept in a very small cell with forty other prisoners. They had no space to move. The prisoners were allowed to take a bath once in two weeks or sometimes longer than that. Many suffered skin infections. Their meals were not served regularly. Following the intolerable conditions, the prisoners launched a hunger strike and eventually he was released in March 1995 after the interference by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Although Lance Corporal U became a free man, he often suffered from an unexplainable fear, sometimes panic attacks. The POW days memories hounded him severely. Some nights he used to wake up with fear thinking that he was still in the LTTE prison cell. He was depressed and surrounded by guilty feelings. In order to avoid nightmares he was consuming large volumes of alcohol. More he used alcohol more he became depressed. He often physically abused his spouse. Lance Corporal U began to avoid everything related to his traumatic experiences.

He was suspicious about the surroundings. He lost the ability to trust and feel intimate. He was affected by emotional anesthesia. He had flashbacks and sometimes he could not distinguish reality from fantasy. His physical strength was weakening and slightest exertion gave him an immense body pain. In 2003, he was diagnosed as having PTSD.


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