Trajectories of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms among youth exposed to both natural and technological disasters

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Theorists and researchers have demonstrated multiple trajectories of symptoms following disasters (Ecology and Society, 13, 2008, 9), highlighting the importance of obtaining more knowledge about exposed youth who demonstrate resilience as well as those who suffer chronic difficulties. This paper examines trajectories of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms following exposure to hurricanes and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill to increase understanding of resilience and chronic reactions to both natural and technological disasters.


A multiwave longitudinal design was used to follow N = 4,619 youth who were evaluated for PTSD symptoms, hurricane exposure, and oil spill exposure/stress at four time points over a period of 4 years. Trajectories were identified with cluster analyses and multilevel modeling.


Individual trajectories were statistically identified consistent with theory. The largest group exhibited stable-low symptoms (52%), a second group showed steep declines following initial symptoms (21%), a third group exhibited increasing symptoms (18%), and a fourth group showed stable-high symptoms (9%). Both hurricane exposure and oil spill stress predicted trajectories and overall levels of PTSD symptoms.


Results identified an effect of oil spill stress and hurricane exposure on symptom levels and trajectories of exposed youth. Results provide prospective data to support theories of multiple symptom trajectories following disasters and reinforce the importance of research that utilizes a developmental perspective to consider the long-term effects of disasters in youth. Findings highlight the importance of identifying symptoms and predictors of resilience as well as factors that contribute to resilience.

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