The phenomenology of post-traumatic stress disorder. A symptomatic study of 70 victims of psychological trauma

Psychopathology. 1998;31(2):96-112. doi: 10.1159/000029029.


This study analyses and categorises the subjective experiences and psychological symptoms of those involved in a major disaster but not themselves physically injured. It examines the concept of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and relates it to other psychiatric diagnoses and also to the particular nature of the disaster. 70 police officers are the subjects of this study, 59 men and 11 women, all of them involved in the Hills-borough Football Stadium Disaster. Assessment included detailed psychiatric history and examination with an account of the events experienced by the informants and their psychological reaction to this at the time and subsequently. Psychiatric diagnosis was made and quantified measurements were also recorded, including a rating scale for the criteria of PTSD, the General Health Questionnaire and rating scales for depression and anxiety. Severity of PTSD symptoms was associated with higher scores on rating scales for both depressive and anxiety symptomatology. Subjective depressive symptoms and depersonalisation were associated with severity of PTSD. Frustrated helplessness was a recurring theme in the psychopathology. Alcohol consumption of those who were already drinkers increased. Social functioning at work and in marriage deteriorated with increased severity of PTSD. Although PTSD has features that distinguish it from other conditions, the degree of distress and long-term disability is more related to depressive symptomatology than to the severity of PTSD itself.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Disasters*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / diagnosis
  • Occupational Diseases / psychology*
  • Personality Inventory
  • Police*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Relief Work
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*