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Amok syndrome: causes, symptoms and treatment

Amok syndrome: causes, symptoms and treatment

April 2, 2024

Disorders such as schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, major depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder are widely known by the vast majority of the population.

These are conditions that occur consistently in the vast majority of cultures of the planet, occasionally varying their manifestations but presenting major distinctive patterns.

However, not all mental disorders are so common. There are some syndromes and disorders that are considered to appear specifically in certain cultures, linked to their beliefs and lifestyles. One of these cases is known as Amok's syndrome, or homicidal madness .

An uncommon disorder: Exploring Amok's Syndrome

Amok syndrome is a very rare disorder whose The main characteristic is the appearance of an outbreak of wild fury that induces the subject to murderous behavior , causing the murder or serious injuries with intent to kill all people with whom the subject is.

This outbreak or episode arises apparently randomly, without there being any phenomenon that causes the attack. This episode usually ends with the death of the subject, being produced either by the suicide of the subject or by the fact of being shot down in order to stop the attack.

It has also been observed that in many cases individuals with this syndrome have a series of prodrome or symptoms that indicate the possible future presence of the disorder. Specifically the presence of moderate depression, isolation and a high level of fatigue are common .

In cases in which the subject with the Amok syndrome survives, the presence of lacunar amnesia (that is, they do not remember the homicidal episode) and an elevated level of physical and mental fatigue and exhaustion have been observed.

It is a syndrome traditionally linked to culture, visualized and described for the first time in the Malay population. Historically, it has also been associated with other cultures, as in the case of the Berserker Viking warriors, which were known to enter a state of rage in battle during which they assaulted both enemies and allies with special ferocity and resistance to pain.

Etiology (causes) of Amok

The causes of this disorder are not yet well known, due to its general low prevalence and the fact that a large part of affected people end up dying, either by suicide or being killed to end their actions.

But nevertheless, it is pointed out that for the Malay population this syndrome was considered a response to frustration and humiliation . Likewise also the religious beliefs of this population, which included the ideas of possession by spirits, facilitates the suggestion and presence of this type of actions, as well as a magical interpretation of the phenomenon.

It has also been detected that the presence of chronic physical disorders is relatively common in subjects with Amok syndrome, and it is not totally ruled out that it happens during an episode of substance intoxication. Specifically, it has been observed that in the Indonesian regions where this disorder was detected, it is common for both adults and infants of Brugmansia suaveolens or floripón, which is used as a sedative as well as to prepare hallucinogenic drinks.

A disorder not as specific to culture as was thought

Although it is considered a disorder linked to culture, Amok syndrome has been expanded over the last few years and exported to a more global level , being associated by some experts to multiple mass murders produced recently. However, it is not clear to what extent it is due to cultural exchange, since one can not separate the increase in the scope of globalization from other factors that could also explain this phenomenon.

Typical profile of the affected

It has been mentioned previously that Amok syndrome is a very strange and difficult to see disorder in the population. However, the serious implications and consequences of this syndrome have led to the study of both this disorder and the characteristics of those who suffer from it. common patterns have been visualized in the subjects who have suffered .

Generally, the subjects in whom this syndrome arises are usually males, usually young, who present a shy personality, introverted and not very expressive . They tend to be subjects with a high level of vital inhibition and sometimes feelings of dissatisfaction and frustration. It is common that throughout their lives they have experienced some type of traumatic experience for them unbearable.

The presence of a history of prolonged harassment over time, as in the case of bullying, or violence within the family is a frequent element found in the subjects who have suffered this disorder, suggesting that the outbreak may be due to sequels of these phenomena that arise causing a homicidal rage.

Increase in prevalence

In recent times an increase in the prevalence of Amok's syndrome has been detected . This is due to the known effect called, through which the observation of certain cases and their consequences can cause other people to imitate the performance of these subjects.

Thus, there is a learning of a form of behavior that it is possible that the subjects did not have beforehand, being able to value and desire the level of social attention that they observe for themselves. The same phenomenon has been observed in cases of gender violence, suicides, vandalism and even homicides or terrorism.

Crimes apparently associated with Amok's syndrome

Amok syndrome is an extremely rare and unusual disorder, but the fact that it can cause the commitment of mass murders has promoted that many known massacres are linked to this syndrome .

Some known cases that have been associated with this disorder are the following:

1. Columbine Massacre

On April 20, 1999, this well-known massacre took place. In it, two students assaulted the Columbine High Scool facility, killing 15 people and wounding twenty-four others before the two perpetrators committed suicide.

2. Virginia Tech Massacre

Another massacre or mass murder that has been linked to the Amok syndrome. In this case occurred in 2007 the subject involved murdered thirty-two people before committing suicide.

3. Massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

In this well-known case produced in 2012, a teenager killed a total of twenty children and seven adults, shortly before committing suicide.

4. Munich shooting

In July of this same year 2016 a young man without apparent connection to terrorist organizations carried out a massacre where nine people lost their lives and another twenty-seven were injured. The perpetrator of the act would end his life soon after.

Caution when linking blood crimes to this syndrome

It must be borne in mind that in many of the cases cited, the person had prior intentionality and planning before carrying out his attack. The definition of the disorder does not indicate that it is a premeditated fact, so it is arguable that these massacres are due to the presence of an Amok syndrome. Despite this, in the opinion of many professionals, the characteristics of these homicidal behaviors are linked to this disorder.

The association of this disorder with violent crime has led to the conclusion that some killings and murders committed without apparent motives have been considered due to Amok's syndrome, as seen previously. But nevertheless we must bear in mind that most of the crimes are committed by people without any mental pathology , whether or not they have a clear objective for others, with which the subject should be treated with caution and not be a reductionist considering that all apparently unjustified blood crime is due to Amok or other mental illnesses or syndromes.

The murders, many of them in most cases, are explained no longer by situations related to mental disorders, delusions and hallucinations, but by contexts in which a conflict has gradually escalated , situations in which there is organized crime, or because of some kind of ideological and discriminatory indoctrination.


Because it is an extremely rare phenomenon that is also characterized by being sudden and unexpected, the only immediate treatments are based on the physical containment of the patient for the duration of the episode. It is important to do so taking into account that the only objective is that no one receives damage, so punishment or any act of revenge, of course, are over.

But nevertheless, it is in the preventive work where a greater efficiency could be found and being able to avoid the massacres . The treatment of possible psychological and social conditions that may lead to outbreaks of this type can be essential. Thus, the loyalty to the monitoring of psychological and pharmacological treatments is important.

Bibliographic references:

  • World Health Organization. (1992). International Classification of Diseases - Tenth Revision. Madrid: WHO.
  • Sofsky, W. (2004). Times of horror. Amok, violence, war. Madrid: Editorial Siglo XXI.
  • Westermeyer, J. (1972). A comparison of Amok and other homicide in Laos. American Journal of Psychiatry, 129: 703-709.

Top 10 Scary and Terrifying Mental Disorder (April 2024).

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