Posttraumatic stress reactions in siblings after mutual disaster: Relevance of family factors Nygaard E, Jensen TK, Dyb G:
Journal of Traumatic Stress 2010, 23 (2): 278 — 281
The brief paper comes from researchers at the Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies in Oslo. The authors studied the importance of family factors in the development of posttraumatic stress reactions in children by comparing siblings and nonsiblings who experienced the tsunami in Southeast Asia in 2004 as tourists.
The paper starts by reviewing relevant literature, and pointed out that factors such as parents’ psychological pathology, parents’ own reactions to the trauma, parental alcohol abuse, family violence and parental occupation have all been shown to be risk factors for the development of PTSD in children after trauma. The review also found that factors such as social support and positive family relations were likely to be protective factors. Genetic influences have also been shown to be linked to susceptibility to PTSD in children.
So, there have been numerous studies that imply that family factors might contribute to the aetiology of children’s posttraumatic stress reactions. However, the authors wanted to study this further and hypothesised that, if familial factors were important, then sibling pairs should show a greater similarity in their reactions to trauma, compared to random pairs of siblings experiencing the same event.
The researchers recruited 38 sibling pairs who hacl been exposed to the trauma of the tsunami; the average age was 13 (none of the children lost family members in the disaster). The children’s parents completed a questionnaire to determine the level of traumatic exposure that each chilcl had experienced. Six months after the tsunami the children were interviewed face to face by professionals about their posttraumatic stress reactions using a standardised measurc that determined the level of life threat, emotional reactions at the time of the disaster, and posttraumatic stress reactions in the month prior to interview. In order to compare difTerences between siblings and differences between unrelated pairs of children, 38 nonsibling pairs of children were randomly created from the same group.
There was some interesting descriptive statistics. For example, the level of exposure to trauma was not, in itself, a good predictor of subjective distress. Higher levels of posttraumatic distress were reported in girls than were reported in boys. However, to the authors’ surprise they did not find a significant correlation between sibling reports of distress, and there was no significant inequality in the differences found between sibling pairs, and the differences found between non-sibling pairs.
The study suggests that if there are family factors that influence the development of posttraumatic symptoms in the children, they did not influence the children’s development of posttraumatic stress reactions enough to override the differences found between randomly paired children. It was further suggested that individual differences between siblings may also be a consequence of family characteristics that both siblings are exposed to but, nonetheless react differently to. In any event, the study emphasises the importance of carrying out individual assessments of siblings who have experienced the same traumatic event, and that the same family factors may not have an equal impact on each sibling, and, specifically may not have the same influence in terms of risk and protective factors.