Longitudinal assessment of posttraumatic stress disorder and depression after exposure to traumatic death

J Nerv Ment Dis. 1995 Jan;183(1):36-42. doi: 10.1097/00005053-199501000-00007.


Little is known of the specific effects of exposure to traumatic death, an important dimension of many disasters. This study examined acute and long-term intrusive and avoidant symptoms, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in disaster workers exposed to traumatic death after the USS Iowa gun turret explosion. Fifty-four volunteer body handlers were assessed at 1, 4, and 13 months. They were compared with 11 non-body handler disaster worker volunteers. The Impact of Events Scale, Zung Depression Scale, Symptom Checklist-90-Revised, and a multi-method assessment of PTSD were used. Intrusive and avoidant symptoms were elevated at 1, 4, and 13 months, and decreased over time. Probable PTSD was present in 11% at 1 month, 10% at 4 months, and 2% at 13 months. The frequency of depression was not increased. Single body handler disaster workers reported more avoidance (times 1 and 2) and somatization (time 1) than did married workers. Body handlers reported more intrusion, avoidance, hostility, and somatization at 1 month than did non-body handler volunteers. These results indicate that exposure to traumatic death increases intrusive and avoidant symptoms, hostility, somatization, and the risk of PTSD and that symptoms can persist for months.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Disasters*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Marital Status
  • Military Personnel / psychology
  • Mortuary Practice*
  • Personality Inventory
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Environment
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Volunteers / psychology*