Posttraumatic stress symptoms following forensic dental identification: Mt. Carmel, Waco, Texas

Am J Psychiatry. 1996 Jun;153(6):778-82. doi: 10.1176/ajp.153.6.778.


Objective: This study was conducted to determine risk factors for posttraumatic stress in medical care professionals who perform postmortem identifications.

Method: Thirty-one dentists (29 men and two women) who had identified the dead from the fire at the Branch Davidian compound in April 1993 were compared to 47 dentists (45 men and two women) who lived in the area but had not identified any of these remains. Posttraumatic symptoms in both groups were measured by using the Impact of Event Scale and the Brief Symptom Inventory. For the remains handlers only, the subjective distress of handling remains and the social support received during the procedure were reported.

Results: Higher scores on the Impact of Event Scale intrusion subscale, the overall Impact of Event Scale, and the obsessive-compulsive subscale of the Brief Symptom Inventory were found for the remains handlers than for the comparison group. Within the remains handler group, distress was significantly related to the hours of exposure to the remains, prior experience handling remains, age, and the support received from spouses and co-workers during the identifications.

Conclusions: Posttraumatic stress symptoms can be expected in some health professionals who perform postmortem identifications. Prior experience and social support may mitigate some of these responses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Autopsy / psychology
  • Dentists / psychology*
  • Female
  • Fires
  • Forensic Anthropology
  • Forensic Dentistry*
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Marriage
  • Middle Aged
  • Personality Inventory
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Support
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / etiology
  • Texas / epidemiology