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Distress of Routine Activities and Perceived Safety Associated with Post-Traumatic Stress, Depression, and Alcohol Use: 2002 Washington, DC, Sniper Attacks

  • Carol S. Fullerton (a1), Holly B. Herberman Mash (a1), K. Nikki Benevides (a1), Joshua C. Morganstein (a1) and Robert J. Ursano (a1)...
Abstract
Objective

For over 3 weeks in October 2002, a series of sniper attacks in the Washington, DC, area left 10 people dead and 3 wounded. This study examined the relationship of distress associated with routine activities and perceived safety to psychological and behavioral responses.

Methods

Participants were 1238 residents of the Washington, DC, metropolitan area (aged 18 to 90 years, mean=41.7 years) who completed an Internet survey including the Impact of Event Scale-Revised, Patient Health Questionnaire-9, and items pertaining to distress related to routine activities, perceived safety, and alcohol use. Data were collected at one time point approximately 3 weeks after the first sniper shooting and before apprehension of the suspects. Relationships of distress and perceived safety to post-traumatic stress, depressive symptoms, and increased alcohol use were examined by using linear and logistic regression analyses.

Results

Approximately 8% of the participants met the symptom criteria for probable post-traumatic stress disorder, 22% reported mild to severe depression, and 4% reported increased alcohol use during the attacks. Distress related to routine activities and perceived safety were associated with increased post-traumatic stress and depressive symptoms and alcohol use.

Conclusion

Distress and perceived safety are associated with specific routine activities and both contribute to psychological and behavioral responses during a terrorist attack. These findings have implications for targeted information dissemination and risk communication by community leaders. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2015;9:509–515)

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Copyright
Corresponding author
Correspondence and reprint requests to Holly B. Herberman Mash, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Department of Psychiatry, 4301 Jones Bridge Road, Bethesda, MD 20814 (e-mail: holly.herberman-mash.ctr@usuhs.edu).
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Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness
  • ISSN: 1935-7893
  • EISSN: 1938-744X
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