The Khmer Adolescent Project: III. A Study of Trauma from Thailand's Site II Refugee Camp

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Abstract

Objective

To determine the prevalence rates of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression in a sample of 99 Cambodian youths, aged 18 to 25 years, living in the Site II refugee camps along the Thai-Cambodian border; to compare these rates to data collected in a similarly aged sample of Cambodian refugees living in the United States; and to illustrate the findings with case vignettes and a brief description of the refugee camp at Site II.

Method

The senior author describes the main features of life in the Site II camp while being employed in one of its medical clinics. A Khmer translated version of the depression section of the Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia for School-Age Children-Epidemiologic Version and the PTSD section of Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children and Adolescents were used in interview format by trained bilingual research assistants. Khmer versions of the Beck Depression Inventory and the Impact of Events Scale were also administered.

Results

The enduring nature of PTSD was evident in this sample of Khmer youths who had survived the Pol Pot regime as children. Similar rates of Pol Pot-related PTSD were found when compared to rates from the US sample. Subclinical forms of PTSD were found in those who reported their worst trauma during life in the camp, while the full PTSD syndrome was associated with those who reported trauma occurring during the earlier Pol Pot regime. Extremely high rates of depressive disorder were found which were interpreted as related to the repatriation back to Cambodia as this study was undertaken.

Conclusion

PTSD in this sample appears to be specifically related to earlier war trauma, while depressive symptoms appear more related to recent stressors. As with other findings from the Khmer adolescent project, this study reaffirms the strong connection between the diagnosis of current PTSD and earlier war trauma in an additional sample of youths at Site II, Thailand. Depressive symptoms, on the other hand, appear to be related to the vicissitudes of recent stressful events in this refugee population. J. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiatry, 1996, 35(3):384–391.

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