Author(s): J. Carey Jackson, MD

Date Authored: December 5, 2013

This clip illustrates the significance of hunger on patients and their memories of torture. For the past 20 plus years I have heard survivors of warfare and imprisonment describe the horrific events of their lives. Hunger is always among the top items that people remember clearly as intense suffering. Bosnians, Somalis, survivors of the Khmer Rouge, lost boys from Sudan – all of those who recall being hungry never fail to mention it and they carry it with them.

I suspect it is in part because we are better at suppressing external events than those that have survival value. For evolutionary reasons hunger is the neurologic phenomena at a hypothalamic level that spurs us to eat for survival. Since it is a survival mechanism at a limbic system level, like thirst, it is basic and difficult to suppress, especially once starvation sets in. As a consequence the feelings are constant.

Look as he describes and remembers with detail what the meals were like. It is easy for the casual listener who has never really been hungry to underestimate the significance of this, but it is not lost on prison systems, and is one of the most common features of torture reported by survivors of warfare, camps, and imprisonment.