When Amanda Berry called 911 on Monday, reporting that she was finally free after being held for 10 years in a house on the west side of Cleveland, she ended the ordeal that she and two other women, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight, had been living with.
While that part of their saga is over, another one is just beginning — the ordeal of trying to return to a normal life after a decade of horror.
“Normal is relative, and while the girls will be physically free at this point, being emotionally free is much more complex and will take much longer,” said Celia Blumenthal, M.D., assistant clinical professor psychiatry at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in New York City. “To be reunited with friends and family will be very important.”
While it is unclear what went on over the 10 years the women were trapped in the house, it’s likely that they will be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, which will require psychiatric treatment, Blumenthal said.
“What happens is that over a long term, especially if the victims are young, they have not developed a fully formed personality by time the trauma occured and were not functioning as adults when abuse started, so the ramifications of abuse are ingrained in their personality,” she explained. “Many people become emotionally unstable.”
And while resuming a normal life will be an uphill climb for Berry and the other women, doing so will be possible, Blumenthal said. “Treatment and medication will absolutely be necessary, but so will having a stable home environment and the strong support of friends and family.”
“It helps them gradually feel less threatened and overcome the emotional trauma,” she added.
In the days to come, however, the women will probably recount the story numerous times to friends, families and law enforcement officials, which could force them to relive the situation and cause even more stress.
“Many times, they [kidnapping victims] have traumatic amnesia and have blocked out the effects,” Blumenthal said. “Bringing the events up again could cause them to have psychotic episodes.”
Blumenthal stressed that is it still very early, and it is unclear what effects the women may have from their long ordeal. While it’s likely that they will need psychiatric help, the extent of the help they require will only become clear as more details unfold.
“Sometimes kids who have been through horrific circumstances block it out and go on with their life,” she said, “but other times kids are much less resilient and cannot get past it. We don’t know much about these girls, and it’s far too early to know how they will react.”
“Amanda Berry’s 10-Year Kidnapping Ordeal — and the Psychological Fallout” originally appeared on Everyday Health