Background: Identifying individuals at risk for mental health problems after a disaster often involves assessing potentially traumatic exposures inherent to the disaster. Survivors of disasters also may have been exposed, both before and during the event, to trauma not directly related to the disaster. A substantial literature suggests exposure to interpersonal violence may have more severe negative outcomes than exposure to non-violent events; however, it is unclear whether violent vs nonviolent exposures before and during a disaster have differential effects on postdisaster psychological functioning.
Methods: We examined the associations of violent and nonviolent exposures before and during Hurricane Katrina with postdisaster psychological functioning in a sample of male military veterans.
Results: Violent and nonviolent exposures post-Hurricane Katrina as well as pre-Katrina violent exposures were significantly associated with symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, panic, and generalized anxiety disorder more than 2 years after the storm. Moreover, veterans who reported violent exposures pre-Katrina were more than 4 times more likely to have reexperienced interpersonal violence during Katrina than those who did not report such exposures.
Conclusions: Results suggest assessing disaster-specific experiences in addition to predisaster interpersonal violence may be important for identifying and triaging individuals at risk for postdisaster mental health problems.
(Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2011;5:S227-S234)