Ethnic Differences in Posttraumatic Distress

Hispanics' Symptoms Differ in Kind and Degree

Published In: Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, v. 77, no. 6, Dec. 2009, p. 1169-1178

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2009

by Grant N. Marshall, Terry L. Schell, Jeremy N. V. Miles

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This longitudinal study of physical injury survivors examined the degree to which Hispanic and non-Hispanic Caucasians reported similar posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Adult physical trauma survivors (N = 677) provided information regarding posttraumatic distress by completing an interview-administered version of the PTSD Symptom Checklist (Civilian version) at 3 time points: within days of trauma exposure and again at 6 and 12 months posttrauma. Structural equation modeling with propensity weights was used in analyzing data. Results replicated prior research indicating that Hispanics report greater overall PTSD symptom severity. However, the size of this effect varied significantly across the 17 individual PTSD symptoms, and several symptoms were not reported more highly by Hispanics. Relative to non-Hispanic Caucasians, Hispanics tended to report higher levels of symptoms that could be regarded as exaggerated or intensified cognitive and sensory perceptions (e.g., hypervigilance, flashbacks). In contrast, few differences were observed for symptoms characteristic of impaired psychological functioning (e.g., difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbance). Findings suggest that the pattern of PTSD symptoms experienced most prominently by Hispanics differs in kind and not merely in degree. Results have implications for theory aimed at explaining this ethnic disparity in posttraumatic psychological distress as well as for clinical intervention with trauma-exposed Hispanics.

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