Objective: This study evaluated 1) the natural course of posttraumatic stress and depressive reactions among untreated adolescents from two cities in an earthquake zone (Gumri and Spitak) and one at the periphery (Yerevan) who were differentially exposed to the 1988 Spitak earthquake in Armenia and 2) the effectiveness of brief trauma/grief-focused psychotherapy among adolescents from Gumri.
Method: One hundred twenty-five adolescents were assessed with the Child Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Reaction Index (CPTSD-RI) and the Depression Self-Rating Scale (DSRS) at 1.5 and 5 years postearthquake. At 1.5 years, trauma/grief-focused group and individual psychotherapy was provided over 6 weeks to a group of students in Gumri.
Results: CPTSD-RI scores among untreated adolescents from Gumri and Spitak subsided significantly but mildly at follow-up, with scores from Spitak, the city at the epicenter, remaining above the cutoff for a diagnosis of PTSD. DSRS scores increased mildly in both earthquake cities but only significantly in Gumri. Among treated adolescents in Gumri, improvement in CPTSD-RI scores was three times that of the untreated Gumri comparison group. The treated group also tended to improve on their DSRS scores, whereas these scores worsened significantly among untreated subjects.
Conclusions: Untreated adolescents exposed to severe trauma are at risk for chronic PTSD and depressive symptoms. Brief trauma/grief-focused psychotherapy is effective in reducing PTSD symptoms and halting the progression of depression. This study supports the implementation of mental health intervention programs in schools after disasters to reduce trauma-related psychopathology.