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PTSD onset and course following the World Trade Center disaster: findings and implications for future research

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Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

Objective

We sought to identify common risk factors associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) onset and course, including delayed, persistent, and remitted PTSD following a major traumatic exposure.

Method

Based on a prospective study of New York City adults following the World Trade Center disaster (WTCD), we conducted baseline interviews with 2,368 persons one year after this event and then at follow-up 1 year later to evaluate changes in current PTSD status based on DSM-IV criteria.

Results

Baseline analysis suggested that current PTSD, defined as present if this occurred in the past 12 months, was associated with females, younger adults, those with lower self-esteem, lower social support, higher WTCD exposure, more lifetime traumatic events, and those with a history of pre-WTCD depression. At follow-up, current PTSD was associated with Latinos, non-native born persons, those with lower self-esteem, more negative life events, more lifetime traumatic events, and those with mixed handedness. Classifying respondents at follow-up into resilient (no PTSD time 1 or 2), remitted (PTSD time 1, not 2), delayed (no PTSD time 1, but PTSD time 2), and persistent (PTSD both time 1 and 2) PTSD, revealed the following: compared to resilient cases, remitted ones were more likely to be female, have more negative life events, have greater lifetime traumatic events, and have pre-WTCD depression. Delayed cases were more likely to be Latino, be non-native born, have lower self-esteem, have more negative life events, have greater lifetime traumas, and have mixed handedness. Persistent cases had a similar profile as delayed, but were the only cases associated with greater WTCD exposures. They were also likely to have had a pre-WTCD depression diagnosis. Examination of WTCD-related PTSD at follow-up, more specifically, revealed a similar risk profile, except that handedness was no longer significant and WTCD exposure was now significant for both remitted and persistent cases.

Conclusion

PTSD onset and course is complex and appears to be related to trauma exposure, individual predispositions, and external factors not directly related to the original traumatic event. This diagnostic classification may benefit from additional conceptualization and research as this relates to changes in PTSD status over time.

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Acknowledgments

Supported in part by funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (Grant No. R01 MH-66403) and Pennsylvania Department of Health (Contract No. 4100042573).

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Correspondence to Joseph A. Boscarino.

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Boscarino, J.A., Adams, R.E. PTSD onset and course following the World Trade Center disaster: findings and implications for future research. Soc Psychiat Epidemiol 44, 887–898 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-009-0011-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-009-0011-y

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