New Data Point to Extent of Trauma at Virginia Tech: More Than 15% of Students Had PTSD

By McNamara, Damian | Clinical Psychiatry News, December 2009 | Go to article overview

New Data Point to Extent of Trauma at Virginia Tech: More Than 15% of Students Had PTSD


McNamara, Damian, Clinical Psychiatry News


ATLANTA--Research is starting to demonstrate the extent to which the differential loss and trauma experienced by students and staff at Virginia Tech on the morning of a shooting rampage more than 2 years ago relates to risk for posttraumatic stress disorder and development of mental illness in general.

Russell Jones, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Virginia Tech, presented findings of two follow-up surveys of nearly 5,000 students and 1,700 faculty and staff conducted in the wake of the shootings by students Seung Hui Cho. In two separate incidents on April 16, 2007, Mr. Cho killed 32 people and wounded 17 others on the school campus in Blacksburg, Va.

Students, faculty, and staff members were surveyed a few months later, in July and August of 2007, to estimate the extent of exposure and psychological reactions. In those surveys, respondents indicated their initial awareness and proximity to the shooting incidents at Ambler Johnson Hall and/or Norris Hall on that day. A total of 77% of students said they were aware of the first incident, and 98% were aware of the second while events were unfolding.

Previous studies indicate that adverse mental health effects on emotional outcomes are substantial and related to extent of exposure, Dr. Jones said. In the current study, a little more than 15% of students met criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he said at the annual meeting of the International Society for Trauma Stress Studies.

Fourteen percent had mild or moderate mental illness, and an additional nearly 5% experienced serious mental illness.

After controlling for age, sex, and race / ethnicity, Dr. Jones found that those who were close to the site of the first shooting at Ambler Johnson Hall at 7:15 a.m., that day, had an elevated risk of PTSD (odds ratio, 1.7). The risk jumped if the respondent was injured or exposed to the dead or injured (OR, 3.9).

Similarly, those who experienced direct trauma to themselves or others associated with the Norris Hall shootings at about 9:30 a.m. had an elevated risk for developing PTSD symptoms (OR, 3.2). Risks also were higher for some indirect exposure--for example, if someone responded that they should have or could have been in Norris Hall at the time (OR, 1. …

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