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BACKGROUND: Although radicalisation is invoked to explain how people become terrorists, there is little empirical evidence. AIMS: To set out the approaches to understand radicalisation, ethical and definitional issues, and how public health approaches may help. METHODS: A non-systematic narrative review. RESULTS: Radicalisation is proposed to explain how people become terrorists. Factors such as social connections, political engagement, group belonging, mental illnesses and other social and cultural influence show a complex interplay that we are still trying to understand. Common mental illnesses appear to be a risk factor at a population level for developing extremist beliefs, and psychoses and autism are reported as more common amongst some terrorist offenders. The activation of stereotypical and reactive fears and fantasies may distort our understanding of how to prevent radicalisation and terrorism. CONCLUSIONS: A public health framework offers a societal, inclusive, and positive approach to preventing radicalisation, alongside criminal justice actions.

Original publication




Journal article


Nord J Psychiatry

Publication Date





S16 - S19


Radicalisation, mental illness, public health, risk and protective factors, Humans, Mental Disorders, Mental Health, Protective Factors, Risk Factors, Terrorism