Children Exposed to Disaster: II. Risk Factors for the Development of Post-Traumatic Symptomatology

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Abstract

Objective:

To examine the influence of subject and exposure variables on the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and syndrome in children exposed to disaster.

Method:

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

Results:

The presence of PTSD symptoms was strongly related to children's reported severity of the hurricane, degree of home damage sustained, and continued displacement; however, children's level of trait anxiety and their reported emotional reactivity during the hurricane were more strongly related to the presence of PTSD symptoms than were the exposure factors. Different sets of risk factors appeared to differentially influence the development of the three DSM-III-R PTSD symptom clusters. Little evidence for a differential effect of the risk factors between females and males and younger and older children was found.

Conclusions:

Level of trait anxiety appears to be the single strongest risk for the development of severe post-traumatic reactions. The higher rate of post-traumatic symptoms in females and younger children in combination with the absence of differential reaction to the risk factors suggests that females and younger children are more likely to develop posttraumatic reactions following a disaster.

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