Intended for healthcare professionals


Mental illness and terrorism

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: (Published 13 September 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4869
  1. Kamaldeep Bhui, professor of cultural psychiatry and epidemiology1,
  2. Adrian James, registrar2,
  3. Simon Wessely, professor of psychiatry3
  1. 1Centre for Psychiatry, Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, London, UK
  2. 2Royal College of Psychiatrists, London, UK
  3. 3King’s Centre for Military Studies, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience, King’s College London, UK
  1. Correspondence to: K Bhui k.s.bhui{at}

Oversimplification and lack of evidence stigmatise people with mental illness and impede prevention efforts

Terrorism is a politically defined act of attack against a state by non-state actors. It is thus not just criminal behaviour but given special status as a threat to the citizens of the national state and assumed to be politically motivated. Terrorist acts are often justified as responses to oppression, discrimination, inequality, persecution, and adversity or, as in the case of Islamist extremist movements, a desire to impose an alternative religious, cultural, and legal framework on society. Terrorist movements can come into existence primarily to fulfil political objectives and as a protest against social and cultural practices.

Although terrorism is known to lead to fear, psychological distress, and adverse health consequences,1 2 less attention has been given to possible causes of terrorist threats. We do not know enough about these antecedents nor the process by which individuals become “radicalised” to take up terrorist causes.3 4 Evidence is emerging that there are …

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