Objective: This study determined the severity of posttraumatic stress and depressive reactions among Nicaraguan adolescents after Hurricane Mitch and the relationship of these reactions to objective and subjective features of hurricane exposure, death of a family member, forced relocation, and thoughts of revenge.
Method: Six months after the hurricane, 158 adolescents from three differentially exposed cities were evaluated by using a hurricane exposure questionnaire, the Child Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Reaction Index, and the Depression Self-Rating SCALE:
Results: Severe levels of posttraumatic stress and depressive reactions were found among adolescents in the two most heavily affected cities. Severity of posttraumatic stress and depressive reactions and features of objective hurricane-related experiences followed a "dose-of-exposure" pattern that was congruent with the rates of death and destruction across cities. Level of impact (city), objective and subjective features, and thoughts of revenge accounted for 68% of the variance in severity of posttraumatic stress reaction. Severity of posttraumatic stress reaction, death of a family member, and sex accounted for 59% of the variance in severity of depression.
Conclusions: After a category 5 hurricane, adolescents in heavily affected areas with extreme objective and subjective hurricane-related traumatic features of exposure experience severe and chronic posttraumatic stress and comorbid depressive reactions. The recovery of the severely affected Nicaraguan adolescents is vital to the social and economic recovery of a country ravaged by years of political violence and poverty. These findings strongly indicate the need to incorporate public mental health approaches, including systematic screening and trauma/grief-focused interventions, within a comprehensive disaster recovery program.