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A 6-Month Follow-Up Study of Posttraumatic Stress and Anxiety/Depressive Symptoms in Korean Children After Direct or Indirect Exposure to a Single Incident of Trauma

J Clin Psychiatry 2009;70(8):1148-1154

Objectives: The aims of this study were to examine the symptoms of posttraumatic stress and anxiety/depression in Korean children after direct or indirect exposure to a single incident of trauma during a fire-escape drill and to assess the incidence of psychiatric disorders in this population.

Method: A total of 1,394 students who attended the elementary school at which the traumatic event took place were evaluated using self-administered questionnaires (the Child Posttraumatic Stress Disorder-Reaction Index [CPTSD-RI], State Anxiety Scale of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory for Children [STAIC], and Children’s Depression Inventory [CDI]), as well as structured diagnostic interviews (Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children, Version-IV [DISC-IV]) at 2 days (time point 1), 2 months (time point 2), and 6 months (time point 3) after the incident. The 335 students who witnessed the accident were defined as the direct-exposure group, and the remaining
students (n = 1,059) were defined as the indirect- exposure group. The study was conducted from May to November 2007.

Results: At time point 1, the prevalence of severe posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depressive symptoms was 18.2%, 5.5%, and 3.4%, respectively. The prevalence of severe PTSD symptoms, as measured by the CPTSD-RI, was significantly higher in the direct-exposure group than in the indirect-exposure group (36.6% vs 12.7%, respectively; P < .001). At time point 2, the prevalence of severe PTSD symptoms was 7.4% (14.0% in the direct- exposure group and 4.9% in the indirect-exposure group, P < .001). The mean total CPTSD-RI score was significantly higher (P < .001) in the direct-exposure group than in the indirect-exposure group. At time point 3, thirty-eight of the 58 subjects (65.5%) evaluated with the DISC-IV in the direct-exposure group had 1 or more of the 7 anxiety/depressive disorders assessed, including subthreshold diagnoses. Among the diagnoses meeting full DSM-IV criteria for each disorder, agoraphobia was the most prevalent (22.4%), followed by generalized anxiety disorder (13.8%), separation anxiety disorder (6.9%), PTSD (5.2%), and social phobia (5.2%). When the subthreshold diagnoses were considered along with the full syndrome diagnoses, separation anxiety disorder was the most common diagnosis (41.4%), followed by agoraphobia (34.5%), obsessive-compulsive disorder (22.4%), PTSD (20.7%), and social phobia (20.7%).

Conclusions: The results of this study provide important evidence that various anxiety/depressive disorders, in addition to PTSD, might follow after direct or indirect exposure to trauma. Our findings highlight the importance of comprehensive screening for psychiatric problems in children exposed to trauma of any scale.

Submitted: November 25, 2008; accepted February 11, 2009.

Online ahead of print: June 16, 2009.

Corresponding author: Dr Jae-Won Kim, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, College of Medicine, Seoul National University Hospital, 28 Yongon-Dong, Chongno-Gu, Seoul, Korea (