Background: Disasters are traumatic events that may result in a wide range of mental and physical health consequences. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is probably the most commonly studied post-disaster psychiatric disorder. This review aimed to systematically assess the evidence about PTSD following exposure to disasters. MethodA systematic search was performed. Eligible studies for this review included reports based on the DSM criteria of PTSD symptoms. The time-frame for inclusion of reports in this review is from 1980 (when PTSD was first introduced in DSM-III) and February 2007 when the literature search for this examination was terminated.
Results: We identified 284 reports of PTSD following disasters published in peer-reviewed journals since 1980. We categorized them according to the following classification: (1) human-made disasters (n=90), (2) technological disasters (n=65), and (3) natural disasters (n=116). Since some studies reported on findings from mixed samples (e.g. survivors of flooding and chemical contamination) we grouped these studies together (n=13).
Conclusions: The body of research conducted after disasters in the past three decades suggests that the burden of PTSD among persons exposed to disasters is substantial. Post-disaster PTSD is associated with a range of correlates including sociodemographic and background factors, event exposure characteristics, social support factors and personality traits. Relatively few studies have employed longitudinal assessments enabling documentation of the course of PTSD. Methodological limitations and future directions for research in this field are discussed.