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Psychotherapy Arms Youths Against PTSD

Untreated disaster survivors face chronic risk of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression

MONDAY, Dec. 5 (HealthDay News) -- Targeted psychotherapy reduced post-traumatic stress in adolescent disaster survivors, according to a study published in the December issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Armen K. Goenjian, M.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues studied 125 adolescents in three cities exposed to the 1988 Spitak earthquake in Armenia. Two cities were in the earthquake zone (Gumri and Spitak), and the third (Yerevan) lies on its periphery.

The researchers used the Child Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Reaction Index (CPTSD-RI) and Depression Self-Rating Scale (DSRS) at 1.5 years and five years after the earthquake. A group of students in Gumri received group and individual psychotherapy for six weeks.

CPTSD-RI scores in untreated youths from Gumri and Spitak dropped mildly at follow-up; scores in Spitak at the quake epicenter stayed above the cutoff for PTSD, the authors report. The treated youths in Gumri showed three times the improvement in CPTSD-RI scores as untreated youths.

"Untreated adolescents exposed to severe trauma are at risk for chronic PTSD and depressive symptoms," the authors write. "Brief trauma/grief-focused psychotherapy is effective in reducing PTSD symptoms and halting the progression of depression. This study supports the implementation of mental health intervention programs in schools after disasters to reduce trauma-related psychopathology."

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