Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Stress sensitization following a disaster: a prospective study

  • G. E. Smid (a1), P. G. van der Velden (a2) (a3), G. J. L. M. Lensvelt-Mulders (a4), J. W. Knipscheer (a1) (a5), B. P. R. Gersons (a1) (a6) and R. J. Kleber (a1) (a2) (a5)...

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.


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.


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.


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.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: Dr G. E. Smid, Foundation Centrum ‘45, Nienoord 5, 1112 XE Diemen, The Netherlands. (Email:
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

PG van der Velden , CJ Yzermans , L Grievink (2009). The Enschede fireworks disaster. In Mental Health and Disasters (ed. Y. Neria , S. Galea and F. H. Norris ), pp. 473496. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 7
Total number of PDF views: 26 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 139 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 24th May 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.