Disasters and their psychological affects Essay

This essay has a total of 2466 words and 9 pages.

disasters and their psychological affects

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and acute stress disorder (ASD) are two stress
disorders that occur after a traumatizing experience. PTSD is defined as a disorder that
follows a distressing event outside the range of normal human experience and that is
characterized by features such as intense fear, avoidance of stimuli associated with the
event, and reliving the event. Acute stress disorder is defined as a disorder that is
characterized by feelings of anxiety and helplessness and caused by a traumatic event. It
also usually occurs within a month of the event and lasts from 2 days to 4 weeks. Dealing
with experiences like the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and the World Trade Center and
Pentagon attacks in 2001 were difficult for people and easily classified as traumatizing
experiences. For times like these when a large number of people experience a traumatizing
experience and will probably develop PTSD or ASD, there is no precedent for how to treat
them. The only tool that can be used at these times is the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual (DSM), to classify the disorder. No real solution exists for a treatment process
for an incident of this scale. The three journal articles I will be using show statistical
data about how people dealt with these experiences and what percent of them developed PTSD
or ASD. They also show how many people showed signs of these disorders but never contacted
a professional to help treat it. Even as far away as Brussels, expatriates of the United
States felt the effects of the attacks of September 11th.

Empirical Research
The first article was a study done on the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and the body
handlers who sorted through rubble and human remains to find all the victims of the
tragedy. Going through experiences like these will often lead to stress disorders, such as
PTSD. This study tests that idea using 51 of the body handlers and a survey to see what
they went through psychologically at the time of the event and how that relates to their
mindset years later. It also set out to test the idea that age, gender, physical exposure
to the bombing, knowing a victim, or having disaster experience would change the
likelihood of acquiring an anxiety disorder. It was also predicted that using "positive
coping strategies including humor, favorable organizational and managerial factors, social
support, level of training and use of rituals" (Doughty et al, 2002) would help reduce the
chances of a disorder. Two years after the bombing surveys were mailed to 135 of the
participating body handlers, including career medical examiners, pathology residents, and
dental residents and students, with 51 responding. The ages of the participants ranged
from 25 to 56 with an average age of 35. The majority of the participants were also
married, Caucasian, men. The survey consisted of 100 questions that asked the participants
questions about previous disaster experience and training, how closely connected to the
bombing they were, depression symptoms at the time of the bombing and 1 year later,
alcohol use after the bombing, their feelings about the work, and problems they had
coping. A point system was used to measure each of these and eventually put into a formula
to measure each aspect. For example, to measure physical exposure, a 4-point scale was
used to test the degree of hearing and feeling the blast. This then gave each person a
score of 2 to 8. Other questions asked were on a simple yes or no scale, giving a score of
1 for yes and 0 for no. Such questions consisted of, did the participant know anyone who
was killed or injured or have they ever worked in a disaster scene before. The final scale
used was for questions like, how often the participant had nightmares or had intrusive
thoughts about the event. These were rated on a verbal scale of never, almost never,
sometimes, fairly often, or often. After all of the participants finished the surveys,
they were compared and put into statistical form. They compared posttraumatic stress and
depression reported at the time of the incident to scores 1 year later. The scores were
then compared to see the relation between stress disorders and possible predictors, like
age, gender, physical exposure to the blast, and many more. The scores were also used to
compare the relationship between posttraumatic stress and increased alcohol use, physical
problems and seeking mental health treatment. The scores finally compared the relationship
between using positive coping techniques and posttraumatic stress 1 year later. The
results showed that the posttraumatic stress scores and the depression scores decreased
dramatically after 1 year. The results also showed that "gender, age, physical blast
exposure, knowing anyone killed or injured, prior professional disaster work, and personal
disaster experience were not significantly correlated with posttraumatic stress" (Doughty
et al, 2002). Increased alcohol use was reported by only 10% of the participants, but
those were the individuals who were most likely to seek professional health treatment.
Physical problems were also very low, with only 1 person reporting experiencing them
often. Coping was also used by all the participants after the bombing, with spending time
with others and focusing on the positive being the most widely used. "There were no
significant differences between those who had used and had not used each coping technique
on mean difference in posttraumatic stress, difference in depression, change in alcohol
use, or seeking mental health treatment" (Doughty et al, 2002). Overall this study showed
that the event had almost no long-term effects on the majority of body handlers, except
for a few cases of increased alcohol use.

The next article was done using a survey as well, of 124 New York City workers after the
attacks on the World Trade Center. It set out to predict the symptoms of PTSD related to
direct exposure to the attacks of 9/11, worries about future terrorist attacks, and
reduced confidence in self. Those surveyed were not directly exposed to the attacks, but
between being evacuated, seeing the buildings collapse from a distance, constant media
coverage and trouble returning to their homes, all the participants were indirectly
exposed. The hypothesis that the researches had come up with was that individuals with
greater direct exposure would have more symptoms of PTSD. The sample tested consisted of
124 New York City municipal workers, 70% being employed full-time, and 30% categorized as
being seasonal or welfare work. Participants were mostly unmarried, ethnic minority
members, and female. Education varied from didn't completed high school to a graduate
degree. Age ranged from 19 to 60 years. And the three quarters of the incomes were below
$40,000 a year. The anonymous surveys were distributed by graduate social work students 25
weeks after the attacks, and were all collected by 3 weeks after distribution. Overall
response rate was 93% of all those asked to participate. "The survey assessed exposure to
the September 11 disaster, prior experiences with disasters, concerns about future
attacks, PTSD symptoms, seeking counseling, symptoms of anxiety and depression, coping
strategies—including seeing a therapist or counselor; perceived levels of social
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