Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine factors predicting the development of posttraumatic stress symptoms after a traumatic event, the 1991 Oakland/Berkeley firestorm. The major predictive factors of interest were dissociative, anxiety, and loss of personal autonomy symptoms reported in the immediate aftermath of the fire; contact with the fire; and life stressors before and after the fire.
Method: Subjects were recruited from several sources so that they would vary in their extent of contact with the fire. Of 187 participants who completed self-report measures about their experiences in the aftermath of the firestorm, 154 completed a follow-up assessment. Of these 154 subjects, 97% completed the follow-up questionnaires 7-9 months after the fire. The questionnaires included measures of posttraumatic stress and life events since the fire.
Results: Dissociative and loss of personal autonomy symptoms experienced in the fire's immediate aftermath, as well as stressful life experiences occurring later, significantly predicted posttraumatic stress symptoms measured 7-9 months after the firestorm by a civilian version of the Mississippi Scale for Combat-Related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and the Impact of Event Scale. Dissociative symptoms more strongly predicted posttraumatic symptoms than did anxiety and loss of personal autonomy symptoms. Intrusive thinking differs from other kinds of posttraumatic symptoms in being related directly to the trauma and previous stressful life events.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that dissociative symptoms experienced in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic experience and subsequent stressful experiences are indicative of risk for the later development of posttraumatic stress symptoms. Such measures may be useful as screening procedures for identifying those most likely to need clinical care to help them work through their reactions to the traumatic event and to subsequent stressful experiences.