Mental health expert says Josh Holt may need time to heal after prison release

Local News

RIVERTON (News4Utah) – The Salt Lake International Airport and Riverton City Park was crowded Monday evening with people for Josh Holt’s joyous homecoming, who has been imprisoned by the Venezuelan government for two years.

Although Holt is now free, mental health experts say he may need some time to heal.

During his imprisonment, Holt said he suffered from intestinal bacteria a year and a half ago. Nearly two weeks ago, Holt pleaded for help in a video recorded from prison, saying prisoners were rioting outside of his cell.

“Anytime a person’s in a situation where they become a political detainee, there’s kind of an immediate sense of powerlessness. Over time, it becomes a feeling of helplessness. Typically, helplessness can progress to hopelessness and that’s a set-up for depression,” said Dr. Trent Holmberg.

Dr. Holmberg said depending on the circumstances Holt endured during his imprisonment, he may experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“Those things don’t improve necessarily just because you’ve come home. So it’s important to check to see what are some of the residual, psychological effects that are hanging on after this kind of event,” said Dr. Holmberg.

Mental health experts said symptoms might not show up right away after the traumatic event and could be delayed.

“There could be a real sense of shock and unreal feeling that what he’s going through is real. Sometimes, it’ll feel kind of dream-like,” said Dr. Holmberg. “Some of these things can be delayed in on-set, so you’re not out of the woods just because you’re feeling good in the first few days home.”

He said certain sensory experiences such as sights, smells, and sounds that remind them of traumatic experiences could cause a flashback or anxiety attack.

“Also, what could happen is a sense of hyper-vigilance, which is essentially feeling unsafe in situations where other people would think there is a reason to feel unsafe. That could be traveling, but it could be something as simple as going to a restaurant or waiting in line when someone’s standing behind you and you can’t watch what they’re doing,” said Dr. Holmberg.

He said what Holt’s family members can do to help through this transitional phase back to civilian life, is to help provide a sense of safety and security.

But the good news is, not all political prisoners will experience PTSD symptoms after the traumatic experience.

“Some people are very resilient and they recover really well. Sometimes don’t need any treatment at all and recover really well just by virtue of being free,” said Dr. Holmmberg.

Holt’s older brother, Derek told News4Utah their family is doing well as of Tuesday morning.

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