This past Friday, four people died after a hostage situation emerged at a home for veterans just north of Napa, California.
A former resident of the home, who had been asked to leave earlier in the week, took three employees hostage, authorities said. According to CNN, the veteran who held the hostages had served in the Middle East and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. After the standoff dragged on throughout the day, the three victims and the shooter were all found dead.
Hostage situations may often seem larger-than-life or even fictitious. From books such as Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto” to films like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” writers use these scenarios to heighten drama and move the story along. But people don’t just take hostages in entertainment media. People are not only held against their will in dramatic scenes in books or movies.
From victims of kidnapping to prisoners of war, people are held captive in real life every day. They could be under threat of violence, the law or even death.
This, as I’m sure you can imagine, has a myriad of consequences for the mental health of those being held against their will. During their capture, victims likely feel a sense of helplessness. Their captor may not feed them, and even if they do, it is at the captor's discretion. The victim may be unable to shower or go outside. These small, everyday activities we take for granted are snatched away, and it could be for no reason other than they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As a result, victims may develop a condition called Stockholm syndrome. This manifests as feelings of trust or affection felt by a victim toward their captor in a case of kidnapping or hostage-taking. Essentially, they begin to look at their captor as the one giving them life, not the one who is taking it away from them.
How could someone actually think this? Humans are predisposed as a species to make sense out of things that don’t make sense to find a way to survive. What is to stop us from giving up if we have nothing to help us make sense of what is happening to us?
I’d like to touch on a specific hostage-type situation you may not have thought of in this manner previously: the Baker Act.
In 1971, a law was passed stating you can be admitted, detained and treated in the hospital against your will. This law, also called the Baker Act, is only acted on when authorities consider you a danger to yourself or others. This law is known as the Florida Mental Health Act of 1971. A similar act, called the Mental Health Act of 1983, exists in the United Kingdom.
The purpose of bringing this to your attention is to emphasize the way the process of involuntary and emergency psychiatric examinations can feel like being held hostage to someone who does not want treatment or who does not believe in it. People with mental illnesses who are taken into hospitals or crisis units against their will are not permitted to leave and are told where to go and what to do. They generally have no freedom. PTSD is a common condition to befall those who have been held hostage and, admittedly, this is not as likely if the patient is treated properly in the hospital. However, other effects, such as difficulty trusting others, anticipating danger, depression and anxiety can arise from this situation.
It is important to remember not everyone has the autonomy most of us do. Next time you consume media that discusses people being held hostage, stop and think about people who have really experienced this. Think about how far and deep the mental health implications run.
Taylor Cavaliere is a UF journalism and psychology junior. Her column focuses on mental health.