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Amanda Knox: Free But Shackled by Reputation and Stress

Amanda Knox breaks down in tears after hearing the verdict that overturns her conviction and acquits her of murdering her British roommate Meredith Kercher, at the Perugia court on October 3, 2011 in Perugia, Italy. Pier Paolo Cito - Pool/Getty Images(PERUGIA, Italy) -- American Amanda Knox received the one verdict that has set her free to go home with her family to Washington state, but mental health experts say the 24-year-old's traumatic journey is far from over.

Since her conviction in the murder of British roommate Meredith Kercher in 2007, Knox has said that she longs to go home and daydreams of catching up on Harry Potter movies and lying in the grass of her Seattle backyard.

After spending four years in a cramped cell in an Italian prison, Knox appeared elated but emotional as an appeals court in Perugia overturned her 26-year sentence.

But her pale face and thinning hair show the toll prison life has taken on the young woman psychologically.

"She still has had a horrific experience and her sense of trust in police and in people is gone," said Ann Rosen Spector, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University. "Some people may still believe she did it and will treat her differently. Her name is well known.

"It will take time to get back to normal," said Spector, a clinical psychologist who specializes in depression, stress and anxiety issues. "She lost four years of her life."

Amanda Knox’s parents, Edda Mellas and Curt Knox, have told ABC that their daughter has broken out in hives and is having trouble sleeping and eating.

Knox arrived in Italy in 2007, a 20-year-old college student eager to learn another culture, thousands of miles from her Seattle home. But only months into the first semester, her apartment roommate, Kercher, was brutally murdered.

Knox and her then-Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were arrested for the murder, and a jury in Perugia, Italy, eventually found them guilty. Sollecito's conviction was also overturned.

"This is really traumatic for her," said Judy Kuriansky, a psychologist who works with youth at Columbia University's Teachers College. "She is going to be just as wrecked as Casey Anthony -- the trial and the lurid details - the accused sex play and throat slashing and a drug-filled orgy. This will continue to follow her forever."

"There is no way she will have a normal life," said Kuriansky. "No matter where she goes, they will think of her as 'Foxy Knoxy.'"

Alan Kazdin, director of Yale's Parenting Center, said the isolation of prison could have a long-term impact on Knox's physical health.

"You don't ever get over it," he said of the prison experience.

"I don't know her personally -- her strengths and weaknesses, being in a strange land in a strange country, even though she is conversational in Italian, but she could experience extreme isolation and it could have an impact on her morale and she could be really traumatized by it," said Kazdin. "Trauma doesn't always come from an acute activity like war or rape."

"The stress of isolation can have an enduring impact on people's immune systems, particularly warding off bacteria and fighting off inflammation and is implicated in a wide range of diseases," he said. "She is at risk."

Normally, when people are under stress, it subsides and life goes back to normal. "But when it carries on, the changes are real," said Kazdin. "Young children who are stressed all the time have more disease and die younger. This is not tiny stuff. Will she suffer that?"

"Youth gives her body resilience, but she has less experience in coping skills," he said. "The mental and physical go together. You can get depression, trauma, stress and illness in the normal process of enduring stress and isolation."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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