Hastings International and Comparative Law Review


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric condition which is common among political asylum applicants. Symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, avoidance of reminders of the trauma, emotional numbness, and hypervigilance. Many of these symptoms can adversely affect applicants' credibility in the courtroom in the eyes of adjudicators unfamiliar with PTSD. Due to PTSD symptoms, applicants may appear unexpectedly calm while recounting details of torture and maltreatment, and their narratives may seem inconsistent. Conversely, adjudicators should be aware of normal activities and functions that are possible among applicants with PTSD. Cultural variations in demeanor, such as reluctance to discuss sexual trauma and aversion of eye gaze, can also compromise the perception of applicants' credibility. The possibility of malingering, i.e., faking an illness, must be considered, but among asylum applicants it is rarely observed by psychiatric clinicians trained to diagnose it.