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Stress sensitization following a disaster: a prospective study

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 November 2011

G. E. Smid*
Affiliation:
Foundation Centrum ‘45/Arq, Diemen, The Netherlands
P. G. van der Velden
Affiliation:
Institute for Psychotrauma, Diemen, The Netherlands INTERVICT/Tilburg University, Tilburg, The Netherlands
G. J. L. M. Lensvelt-Mulders
Affiliation:
University for Humanistics, Utrecht, The Netherlands
J. W. Knipscheer
Affiliation:
Foundation Centrum ‘45/Arq, Diemen, The Netherlands Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
B. P. R. Gersons
Affiliation:
Foundation Centrum ‘45/Arq, Diemen, The Netherlands Academic Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
R. J. Kleber
Affiliation:
Foundation Centrum ‘45/Arq, Diemen, The Netherlands Institute for Psychotrauma, Diemen, The Netherlands Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
*
*Address for correspondence: Dr G. E. Smid, Foundation Centrum ‘45, Nienoord 5, 1112 XE Diemen, The Netherlands. (Email: g.smid@centrum45.nl)

Abstract

Background

According to the stress sensitization hypothesis, prior exposure to extreme stressors may lead to increased responsiveness to subsequent stressors. It is unclear whether disaster exposure is associated with stress sensitization and, if so, whether this effect is lasting or temporary. This study aimed to investigate the occurrence and duration of stress sensitization prospectively following a major disaster.

Method

Residents affected by a fireworks disaster (n=1083) participated in surveys 2–3 weeks (T1), 18–20 months (T2) and almost 4 years (T3) after the disaster. Participants reported disaster exposure, including direct exposure, injury and damage to their home at T1, and also stressful life events (SLEs) at T2 and T3. Feelings of anxiety and depression, concentration difficulty, hostility, sleep disturbance, and intrusion and avoidance of disaster-related memories were used as indicators of distress.

Results

Residents whose home was completely destroyed responded with greater distress to SLEs reported 18–20 months following the disaster than residents whose home was less damaged. There were no differences in stress responsiveness almost 4 years after the disaster.

Conclusions

During the first years after a disaster, stress sensitization may occur in disaster survivors who experienced extreme disaster exposure. Stress sensitization may explain the persistence or progression of distress over time following extreme stressor exposure.

Type
Original Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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