Stalking can have deleterious effects on victims' mental and physical
health not only at the time of stalking, but later in life, eroding their
positive mood, vitality, and general interest in life.
Like so many young women, “Astrid” had looked forward with
great excitement to her wedding day. But when the day finally arrived, she
looked out the window and saw, to her horror, a black hearse parked in front
of her house. A former boyfriend, “Otto,” she soon learned, had
ordered the hearse to express his displeasure over her having rejected him in
favor of another suitor.
Stalking is a serious problem for a number of women, and also for some men,
in Germany, just as it is people in other countries, a new study reveals. This
is apparently the first community study of stalkers to be conducted in
The lead investigator was Harald Dressing, M.D., of the Central Institute
of Mental Health Mannheim in Mannheim, Germany. The results appeared in the
August British Journal of Psychiatry.
Dressing and his colleagues surveyed some 700 residents of the city of
Mannheim to identify individuals who had been stalked. Stalking was defined as
multiple episodes of harassment that had to be present more than two weeks,
involve more than one form of intrusive behavior, and provoke fear. Dressing
and his coworkers asked the subjects who had been stalked to provide details
surrounding their experience as well as the psychological impact on them.
Some 12 percent of those individuals surveyed reported that they had been
stalked at some point in their lives. Eighty-seven percent were women. Some
three-fourths had been stalked by someone they knew—say, a prior
intimate partner. Eighty-six percent of the stalkers were male.
Victims reported that the most frequent motives of the stalkers appeared to
have been a desire for a loving relationship, eagerness to resume a former
relationship, jealousy, or revenge.
Stalkers used various means of harassment, victims revealed. The most
frequent types included unwanted phone calls; loitering nearby; sending
unwanted letters, e-mails, or faxes; following the victim; approaching the
victim through a third party; and standing in front of the victim's door. Less
common types of harassment included leaving messages at the victim's door,
pursuing the victim by car, destroying property belonging to the victim,
invading the victim's home, sending the victim unsolicited goods, and sending
the victim offensive materials.
Almost a third of stalking victims reported having been physically
assaulted by their stalker, and almost a fifth said they had experienced
Victims also reported that they had experienced a number of psychological
or somatic symptoms as a result of being stalked—agitation, anxiety,
sleep disturbances, nausea, depression, headaches, and even panic attacks.
Almost a fourth had visited a health professional to help them cope with these
One of the most disturbing findings was that even when some variables
connected with psychological health were taken into consideration, victims
scored significantly lower on the WHO-5 Well-Being Index than had individuals
who had never been stalked. This instrument is a brief scale for measuring
positive psychological well-being. It consists of five items assessing
positive mood, vitality, and general interest over the past two weeks. The
instrument has also proven to be good for depression screening in the general
These results, Dressing and his coworkers wrote in their study report,“
closely resemble results found in population-based representative
samples of the U.S.A., Australia, and England.” However, they added,
their study is “the first to show that the lifetime prevalence of being
a stalking victim is associated with current impaired psychological
An abstract “Lifetime Prevalence and Impact of Stalking in a
European Population” is posted at<http://bjp.rcpsych.org/cgi/content/abstract/187/2/168>.▪
Br J Psychiatry2005187168