Stigma, Mental Health Factors May Contribute to Terrorism

Man in front of the sunsetStigma, anti-Muslim discrimination, isolation, and other mental health factors may play a major role in radicalization and terrorism, according to a study published in the journal Health Equity.

The study’s authors suggest current efforts to fight terrorism may promote the conditions that give rise to radicalization and terrorists. Instead, the researchers say terrorism should be viewed through the lens of public health, and more research should address public health factors that contribute to terrorism.

Death due to terrorism has risen to an all-time high, according to data from the study. In 2014, there were 32,685 deaths due to terrorism worldwide. In 2015, the figure was 29,376.

Public Health Perspective on Terrorism

The study reviews the research on social factors that affect health and then presents a public health model for understanding terrorism. In this regard, the study provides a lens through which terrorism can be viewed—not a definitive analysis of terrorist activities. The researchers show how discrimination—both structural and interpersonal—isolation, gang violence, and social cohesion may all play a role.

Because some efforts to fight terrorism may increase discrimination and isolation—for example, stigmatizing Muslims or preventing family members from immigrating to live with loved ones—the researchers argue that these efforts may have the opposite effect than intended.

They point to a dearth of public health literature on terrorism and urge experts to consider terrorism as a viable topic for future public health research.

Could Public Health Strategies End Terrorism?

A 2012 study evaluated terrorism as a public health issue and identified several risk factors for terrorist radicalization. Those risk factors include:

  • Transitions
  • Social exclusion
  • Grievances about discrimination and social policy
  • Unemployment
  • Immigration experiences
  • International conflict, particularly when viewed as unjust
  • Threats to family and cultural groups
  • The failure of non-violent means to effect change
  • Marginalization of cultural identities
  • Exposure to charismatic leaders who promote terrorism

Factors that can protect against radicalization, according to the study, include:

  • Social cohesion
  • Social support
  • Trust in institutions
  • Social capital
  • An integrated cultural identity
  • Feelings of security and safety
  • Access to employment
  • Democratic and non-violent means to effect change and express opinions
  • Access to religious leaders who endorse moderate or critical approaches to religion


  1. Alcala, H. E., Sharif, M. Z., & Samari, G. (2017). Social of health, violent radicalization, and terrorism: A public health perspective. Health Equity,1(1), 87-95. doi:10.1089/heq.2016.0016
  2. Bhui, K. S., Hicks, M. H., Lashley, M., & Jones, E. (2012). A public health approach to understanding and preventing violent radicalization. BMC Medicine,10(1). doi:10.1186/1741-7015-10-16

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  • wilson

    July 3rd, 2017 at 2:26 PM

    Nope those who are radicalized for the most part come from communities that do not ostracize them but rather glorify them for those choices

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