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Sniper Spree Led to PTSD Symptoms Among DC-Area Residents

Discussion in 'News, Politics & Debates' started by anthony, Aug 22, 2006.

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  1. anthony

    anthony Silently Watching Founder

    During a three-week killing spree in October 2002, Washington-area residents sheltered at home, avoided public spaces, missed work and suffered some of the symptoms associated with posttraumatic stress, according to a new study from the Division of Violence Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Different from public health investigations following the Oklahoma City bombing or September 11 terrorist attacks, the new work describes community responses after a nearly month-long event “evoking a heightened and sustained sense of vulnerability,” the study said.

    More recently, residents of the Phoenix area have been gripped by similar fear. For more than a year, Arizona’s largest city was unsettled by a series of late-night sniper attacks; in early August police arrested two men in connection with those shootings.

    The Washington, D.C.-area study, like others before it, documents individual responses to shared traumatic events, pinpoints what proportion of the community is affected and helps us better understand who is at risk for debilitating outcomes such as posttraumatic stress disorder, said psychiatrist and lead study author Jeffrey Schulden. The study also gives mental health professionals clues for helping the community recover after a terror-causing ordeal.

    “We’re providing some information to people and primary-care providers around what is the expected range of psychological and behavioral responses and when does that push over the edge to where you might want to involve a mental-health professional specifically, or seek further help,” said Schulden, a medical epidemiologist for the CDC.

    The study appears in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. It is based on phone interviews with 1,205 people — all residents of the district or two nearby Maryland counties. Study participants were interviewed about six months after the sniper spree ended. Two men were arrested and convicted of the 13 attacks that killed 10 people.

    “More than a third of residents reported leaving their households less than usual due to concerns about the sniper shootings,” Schulden said. About 16 percent of participants said they stayed home for an entire day.

    Forty-five percent of the residents surveyed said they went to public spaces, like parks and shopping centers, less than usual. Among people who worked outside of the home, 5.5 percent reported that they missed at least one day of work due to the sniper shootings.

    About 7 percent of residents reported enough symptoms to suggest they were at risk for posttraumatic stress. Women who reported residing within five miles of one of the shootings were more than four times more likely to report elevated traumatic stress symptoms than women living farther from the incidents. Among men, no such association was found.

    “This was not a diagnostic interview. It’s purely a screening scale to determine who might be at increased likelihood for having PTSD,” Schulden said. Detecting and diagnosing posttraumatic stress disorder would require a full clinical evaluation, he said.

    Rachel Yehuda is director of the Traumatic Stress Studies Division at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Bronx Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Yehuda said she’s looking for more studies that answer the logical next questions, following Schulden’s work.

    “What have we learned about the community needs in the midst, in the wake, of a traumatic event?” Yehuda asks.

    U.S. disaster and terrorism response plans need to include mental health programs to facilitate society’s recovery after a community-wide trauma, the study authors conclude. Those plans could include mass-media campaigns which would include not only information on typical or expected reactions, but also information about when to seek the assistance of a mental-health clinician, Schulden said.

    But Yehuda said, “For whom should we do that? How do we find the right people to direct our messages toward? That’s what we need to know now.”

    Source: Newswise
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  3. FlyLadyFan

    FlyLadyFan Member

    Oh, I can validate this!

    My trauma occurred in May 2003, less than a year after the DC sniper spree, and the anniversary-type news of the spree occurred five months after my trauma and added to my anxiety in spades. The snipers were no longer out there, but remembering the previous year's anxiety now on top of fresh PTSD was difficult.

    At the time, I lived in Howard County, Maryland, and my dd did extracurricular activities in Montgomery County, about 4 miles from most of the Maryland shootings.

    The anniversary was putrid icing on a very spoiled cake.


  4. kimG

    kimG Well-Known Member

    Thanks for sharing this Anthony!

    I, too, was greatly affected by this incident. Although I don't live near the areas where it was happening, the heightened awareness took its toll on me. I am a teacher; the school systems in Maryland were keeping the kids inside during recess and cancelling field trips - all in fear of the sniper. The school where the kid was shot was the junior high school I attended and was just a couple blocks from where I grew up. As the sniper extended his range of area, moving out of the DC area, I was just sure he would come up I-95 (a major North-South highway on the east coast) to the area in which I teach (3 miles away from I-95). My hypervigilance level is high enough on a normal day; during that time it was off the scale!

    The 9-11 attacks really sent me for a loop. I internalized the terror, fear, and sadness, sinking into a depression I hadn't experienced before. We lived across the street from some tank training grounds for the Aberdeen Proving Grounds (an Army base in northern Maryland) and I had a recurring nightmare for over a year afterwards. The "people" would try (unsuccessfully) to get on the base; when they couldn't they would come and take over our house, killing Warren and the girls and taking me for their captive (why me? I dunno...). Then they would dig a tunnel from our yard, under the road, to the base. I would wake up in a panic every morning. We had to move, as I couldn't cope living there and the nightmares about that eventually stopped.

    With the problems with terrorists seemingly increasing on a daily basis, it's a wonder that we all don't have PTSD. I know the terrorists have been out to get Americans for a long time, but the knowledge of it, through the media, makes it that much more real. I guess ignorance really is bliss!
  5. anthony

    anthony Silently Watching Founder

    Welcome FLF, glad to have you here. I can say that just having snipers in support is a scary event, and thats when their on your side, let alone aiming for you instead. A sniper is a dangerous person, because they have been trained to be sneaky, reflect and camouflage within their surroundings, and not be seen, regardless of time. What the see, is amazing to most, as you think they can only see people, or larger objects, but they can actually see everything, down to nut size, do have imagery equipment to see heat through walls, so staying inside also doesn't protect you. It is scary stuff what is out there, and when in the wrong hands, terrifying.
    Riot likes this.
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