Nigel Brennan.
Nigel Brennan.

Nigel to undergo expert debriefing

AFTER 15 months in captivity, Nigel Brennan and his family must be counting the minutes until he is on Australian soil — but an expert has warned that medical checks could delay his departure for several more days.

Mr Brennan reportedly lost about 10kg during his ordeal, but the real signs of stress may be shown during psychological assessments, after he spoke of being tortured and kept in isolation by his captors.

“One of the aims of solitary confinement is to destroy someone’s sense of identity, and it can absolutely challenge the adaptability of even the strongest individual,” University of Adelaide psychology professor Sandy McFarlane said.

“The constant apprehension and wish to be rescued, the fear that you have been abandoned and the terrible hopelessness — their mind can be captured by what they have been through.”

Mr Brennan told reporters immediately after his release last week that he was kept in a dark room alone for most of his time in captivity.

He said he was unable to exercise, and was ordered not to smile or laugh, and that he was held separately to his colleague Amanda Lindhout.

At times, he was pistol-whipped by members of the rebel group that was holding him to ransom.

Prof McFarlane, who is also the head of the Centre for Military and Veterans’ Health, said it was common practice for kidnapping victims to spend about a week with psychological experts to debrief them before they were returned to their families.

“There will be issues about not only his welfare, but also that he may have information about the group that held him,” he said.

“So they get that information from them and make sure there are no issues about protecting others (fellow victims or the kidnappers themselves).”

Prof McFarlane said Stockholm Syndrome, in which a captive over time comes to identify with his kidnappers, was a possibility.

“They will want to assess how he has adapted to (his ordeal) because people do lose their identities in that environment, and one way you can do that is to start to take on the identity of the captors,” he said.

“There is often a sense of separation between you and others, because they can’t understand exactly what you have been through.”

He said previous kidnapping victims, such as Terry Waite, who was held hostage in Lebanon for four years, had shown how difficult it could be to recover.

“Particular moments of horror and terror may play in the person’s mind after they are rescued,” Prof McFarlane said.

“His mind will have constantly wandered.”

“It can be a challenge to return to some semblance of a normal life.

“It’s not just a challenge for him, but for his whole family as well.”

Prof McFarlane stressed that Mr Brennan should be given time and resources to deal with the aftermath in whatever manner he decided was most appropriate.

“It is not that he will be a broken man, but you can’t get through an ordeal like that and not have your life changed,” he said.

“It’s important he is allowed privacy to manage this how he sees fit.”

Mr Brennan is expected to return to Australia this week.

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