Many youths experience post-traumatic stress after natural disasters, study finds
A significant proportion of youths may experience post-traumatic stress symptoms after a natural disaster, according to results of a cohort study published in JAMA Network Open.
“It is unclear what typical [post-traumatic stress] symptom trajectories occur among youths after disasters,” Betty S. Lai, PhD, of the department of counseling, developmental and educational psychology at Boston College, and colleagues wrote. “Studies on youths’ PTS symptom trajectories differ with regard to the trajectories identified and the proportion of youths in each trajectory. Variability in existing studies on youths’ PTS symptom trajectories makes it difficult to interpret, compare and resolve discrepant findings. Discrepant findings may be associated with differences in the disaster event examined, assessment timing, the analysis type, sample recruitment or risk factors examined.”
The investigators aimed to evaluate PTS symptom trajectories among 1,707 youth, for whom the mean age was 9.61 years and of whom 46% self-identified as white non-Hispanic, after four major U.S. hurricanes, as well as to assess factors linked to those trajectories. Specifically, they analyzed combined data from studies of youths’ responses to hurricanes Andrew, Charley, Ike and Katrina at time points between 3 and 26 months after the disasters. In the prior studies, researchers received survey data via convenience sampling of youths aged 6 to 16 years at schools near each hurricane’s path of destruction. PTS symptoms assessed via the UCLA PSTD Reaction Index (UCLA-PSTD-RI) and the UCLA PTSD-RI-Revised served as the main outcomes and measures.
Results showed 10% of participants’ PTS symptom trajectories were chronic, 23% were recovery, 33% were moderate-stable and 34% were low-decreasing. The chronic group was comprised of a smaller percentage of older youths. Each 1-year increase in age was linked to increased odds for being in the other groups vs. the chronic group. Girls were more likely to be in the chronic group than in any other group compared with boys.
“These findings may guide policy makers to effectively implement stepped care models for youths after a disaster,” Lai and colleagues wrote. “The results also highlight the need for health surveillance systems after disasters because many youths in this study reported elevated PTS symptoms.”