Amok syndrome: causes, symptoms and treatment

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

These are conditions that occur systematically in the vast majority of cultures on the planet, sometimes varying their manifestations but exhibiting distinctive patterns of the majority.

However, not all mental disorders are so common. It is believed that certain syndromes and disorders appear specifically in certain cultures, related to their beliefs and lifestyles. One of these cases is known as Amok syndrome, or murderous madness..

A rare disorder: exploring Amok syndrome

Amok syndrome is a very rare disorder the main characteristic is the appearance of a surge of savage fury which induces the subject to a murderous behavior, Causing murder or grievous bodily harm with intent to kill anyone with whom the subject is found.

This epidemic or episode occurs apparently at random, without any phenomenon causing the attack. This episode usually ends with the subject’s death, produced either by the subject’s suicide or by being shot to stop the attack.

It has also been observed that in many cases, people with this syndrome exhibit a number of prodromes or symptoms that indicate the possible future presence of the disorder. More precisely moderate depression, isolation and high levels of fatigue are common.

In cases where the subject with Amok syndrome survives, the presence of lacunar amnesia has been observed (i.e., they do not remember the homicidal episode) and an elevated level of fatigue and exhaustion both physically and mentally.

It is a syndrome traditionally linked to culture, first visualized and described in the Malay population. Historically, it has also been associated with other cultures, as in the case of the Verserker Viking warriors, known to go into a state of rage in battle during which they attacked both enemies and allies with particular ferocity and resistance to pain.

Etiology (causes) of Amok

The causes of this disorder are still poorly understood, due to its low overall prevalence and the fact that large numbers of those affected end up dying, either by suicide or by gunshot to stop their actions.

However, it is noteworthy that for the Malaysian population, this syndrome was seen as a response to frustration and humiliation. Likewise, the religious beliefs of this population, which included ideas of possession by spirits, facilitate the suggestion and presence of this type of action, 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 people with Amok syndrome, and it is not completely excluded that this occurs during an episode of substance poisoning. Specifically, it has been observed that in areas of Indonesia where this disorder has been detected, consumption by adults and children of Brugmansia suaveolens or floripón is common, which is used as a sedative as well as to prepare drinks in the Hallucinogens .

A disorder not as culturally specific as we thought

Although it is considered a culture-related disorder, Amok syndrome has recently been extended and exported to a more global level, To be associated by some experts with several recent mass murders. However, it is not clear to what extent it is the cause of cultural exchanges, as the increasing extent of globalization cannot be separated from other factors that could also explain this phenomenon.

Typical profile of those affected

It has been mentioned above that Amok syndrome is a very rare disorder and difficult to see 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, so that common patterns were seen in subjects who suffered from it.

Usually, the subjects in whom this syndrome occurs are usually men, usually young, who present with shy, introverted and not very expressive personality. These are usually subjects who exhibit a high level of vital inhibition and sometimes feelings of dissatisfaction and frustration. It is common for them throughout their lives to have had some sort of traumatic experience that is unbearable to them.

The presence of a very long history of harassment over time, as in the case of bullying, or domestic violence is a common feature found in subjects who have suffered from this disorder, suggesting that the suffering of the epidemic may be due to sequelae of these phenomena which occur causing murderous anger.

Increased prevalence

An increase in the prevalence of Amok syndrome has been detected in recent times. This is due to the well-known call effect, whereby observing certain cases and their consequences can cause other people to emulate the performance of those subjects.

Thus, there is a learning of a form of behavior that subjects may not have previously had, and they may appreciate and desire the level of social attention that they observe for themselves. The same phenomenon has been observed in cases of gender-based violence, suicide, vandalism and even homicide or terrorism.

Crimes apparently associated with Amok syndrome

Amok syndrome is an extremely rare and unusual disorder, but the fact that it can cause it committing mass murders has encouraged many massacres known to be linked to this syndrome.

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

1. The Columbine Massacre

On April 20, 1999, this well-known massacre took place. In it, two students stormed the facilities of Columbine High Scool, killing 15 people and injuring 20 others before the two perpetrators committed suicide.

2. Virginia Tech Massacre

Another massacre or mass murder linked to Amok syndrome. In this case, which took place in 2007, the person involved murdered thirty-two people before committing suicide.

3. Massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

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

4. Shooting in Munich

In July of the same year 2016, a young man with no apparent involvement in terrorist organizations committed a massacre in which nine people were killed and twenty others were injured. The perpetrator would end his life shortly thereafter.

Be careful when you associate blood crimes with this syndrome

It should be noted that in many of the cases mentioned, the person had previously demonstrated intentionality and planning before carrying out his attack. The definition of the disorder does not indicate that it is a premeditated event, so it can be argued that these killings are due to the presence of Amok syndrome. However, 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 some murders and murders committed for no apparent reason being considered due to Amok syndrome, as seen above. however it should be noted that most crimes are committed by people without mental illnessWhether or not their performance has a clear purpose for others, therefore, the matter should be treated with caution and not sin as a reductionist, given that any seemingly unwarranted blood crime is due to Amok or other syndromes or to mental illness.

The murders, many in most cases, are no longer explained by situations related to mental disorders, delusions and hallucinations, but by contexts in which conflict slowly escalates, Situations in which there is organized crime, or due to a kind of ideological and discriminatory indoctrination.


Because this is an extremely rare phenomenon and is also characterized by its sudden and unexpected nature, the only immediate treatments are the physical restraint of the patient for the duration of the episode. It’s important to do this keeping in mind that the only goal is that no one gets hurt, so the punishments or any act of revenge, of course, are too heavy.

However, it is in preventive work that we can find greater efficiency and avoid massacres. Treatment of any psychological and social conditions that may lead to such outbreaks may be essential. Thus, fidelity to the follow-up of psychological and pharmacological treatments is important.

Bibliographical references:

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

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