Children Exposed to Disaster: I. Epidemiology of Post-Traumatic Symptoms and Symptom Profiles

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Abstract

Objective:

To determine the range and severity of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms exhibited by children after exposure to a natural disaster.

Method:

Three months after Hurricane Hugo struck Berkeley County, South Carolina, 5,687 school-aged children were surveyed about their experiences and reactions related to the storm. Self-reports of PTSD symptoms were obtained by use of a PTSD Reaction Index.

Results:

Significant variation in the prevalence of PTSD symptoms was found across race, gender, and age groups. Self-reported symptoms were used to derive a post-traumatic stress syndrome classification according to DSM-III-R guidelines for the diagnosis of PTSD. More than 5% of the sample reported sufficient symptoms to be classified as exhibiting this post-traumatic stress syndrome. Females and younger children were more likely to receive this classification. At the symptom level, females reported more symptoms associated with emotional processing and emotional reaction to the trauma. Males were more likely to report symptoms related to cognitive and behavioral factors. Younger children were more likely to report symptoms overall.

Conclusions:

Children exposed to a high magnitude natural disaster report sufficient symptoms to establish a DSM-III-R derived classification of a PTSD syndrome. Differences between gender, age, and race groups appear to be related to differential risk of exposure, reporting biases, as well as a differential risk for developing posttraumatic symptoms.

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