PTSD Severity after Disaster Hinges on Proximity, TX

Article excerpt

CHICAGO -- Posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms among adolescents after a natural disaster depend significantly on proximity to the tragedy and on the type of treatment the victims receive, Dr. Armen Goenjian said at the annual meeting of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

Dr. Goenjian and his colleagues gleaned those results from their treatment of victims of the 1988 earthquake in Spitak, Armenia, which measured 6.9 on the Richter scale and killed 17% of the population of the 500,000-person city, said Dr. Goenjian of the University of California, Los Angeles. The treatment, part of a psychiatric outreach program that began in 1989 and is ongoing, initially provided direct care to earthquake victims and now trains local mental health professionals.

The researchers found that between the two measures--1.5 years and 5 years after the earthquake--untreated controls experienced mildly improved levels of PTSD, while those who received treatment improved three times more. Although treatment helped the level of improvement, more severe exposure to the trauma still resulted in high levels of PTSD 5 years after the exposure.

Investigators followed 32 children in Spitak, the epicenter of the quake in north central Armenia; 30 children in the capital of Yerevan, about 50 miles south of Spitak; and two groups in Gumri, which is about 30 miles east of the epicenter. In Gumri, 36 of the adolescents received mental health treatment; 27 did not.

A year and a half after the earthquake, the difference in PTSD in the four groups was significant, Dr. …