Hurricane-related exposure experiences and stressors, other life events, and social support: concurrent and prospective impact on children's persistent posttraumatic stress symptoms

J Consult Clin Psychol. 2010 Dec;78(6):794-805. doi: 10.1037/a0020775.


Objective: We investigated the influence of hurricane exposure, stressors occurring during the hurricane and recovery period, and social support on children's persistent posttraumatic stress (PTS).

Method: Using a 2-wave, prospective design, we assessed 384 children (54% girls; mean age = 8.74 years) 9 months posthurricane, and we reassessed 245 children 21 months posthurricane. Children completed measures of exposure experiences, social support, hurricane-related stressors, life events, and PTS symptoms.

Results: At Time 1, 35% of the children reported moderate to very severe levels of PTS symptoms; at Time 2, this reduced to 29%. Hurricane-related stressors influenced children's persistent PTS symptoms and the occurrence of other life events, which in turn also influenced persistent PTS symptoms. The cascading effects of hurricane stressors and other life events disrupted children's social support over time, which further influenced persistent PTS symptoms. Social support from peers buffered the impact of disaster exposure on children's PTS symptoms.

Conclusions: The effects of a destructive hurricane on children's PTS symptoms persisted almost 2 years after the storm. The factors contributing to PTS symptoms are interrelated in complex ways. The findings suggest a need to close the gap between interventions delivered in the immediate and short-term aftermath and those delivered 2 years or more postdisaster. Such interventions might focus on helping children manage disaster-related stressors and other life events as well as bolstering children's support systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Cyclonic Storms*
  • Disasters
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Prospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Social Support*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*