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Trauma and traumatic bereavement have well-known consequences for mental health, but little is known about long-term adjustment, particularly with respect to health-protective factors.
To assess the levels of anxiety/depression and perceived social support among the survivors and the bereaved 26 years after the Scandinavian Star ferry disaster compared with expected levels from the general population.
Anxiety/depression and social support were assessed in face-to-face interviews with the survivors and the bereaved (N = 165, response rate 58%). Expected scores were calculated for each participant based on the means and proportions for each age and gender combination from a general population sample. We computed the ratio between expected and observed scores, standardised mean differences with 95% confidence intervals and standardised effect sizes.
We found an elevated level of anxiety/depression symptoms in the victims (Mdiff = 0.28, 95% CI 0.18, 0.38; effect size 0.43, 95% CI 0.31, 0.55) and a significant excess of individuals with a clinically significant level of symptoms. The observed level of perceived social support was significantly lower than that expected (Mdiff = −0.57, 95% CI −0.70, −0.44; effect size −0.73, 95% CI −0.89, −0.57). This was the case for both survivors and those who were bereaved and for both men and women.
This study reveals that disaster survivors and the bereaved reported elevated levels of anxiety and depression symptoms 26 years after the event. They also reported a markedly reduced level of social support. Traumas and post-traumatic responses may thus cause lasting harm to interpersonal relationships.
Perceived life threat is associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Still, it is not known whether perceived threat may be important for PTSD in people indirectly exposed to trauma.
To examine the prevalence of perceived life threat and the association with PTSD in individuals directly or indirectly exposed to terror.
Data are cross-sectional from a survey 10 months after the 2011 Oslo bombing. Perceived life threat was measured by the question: ‘How great do you think the danger was that you would die?’ scored on a five-point scale. PTSD was measured with the PTSD Checklist (PCL).
The retrospective belief that one's life was in great or overwhelming danger was reported by 65% and 22% of employees who had been present or not present, respectively, at the site of the bomb explosion (n = 1923). A high perceived life threat was associated with PTSD among those present (odds ratio (OR) = 5.7, 95% CI 1.9–16.9) and not present (OR = 5.2. 95% CI 3.0–9.0), even after adjusting for objective exposure, demographics and neuroticism.
Perceived life threat may play a central role in the development and maintenance of PTSD in people directly as well as indirectly exposed to terror. Moderating perceptions of having been in serious danger may be an appropriate approach to the prevention and treatment of PTSD.
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