Impact of Daily Assessments in Distress and PTSD Symptoms in Trauma-Exposed Women

Published in: Journal of Interpersonal Violence, v. 29, no. 5, Mar. 2014, p. 824-845

Posted on RAND.org on March 01, 2014

by Eric R. Pedersen, Debra L. Kaysen, Kristen P. Lindgren, Jessica Blayney, Tracy L. Simpson

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As more advanced methodologies are developed for symptom assessment in traumatic stress studies, it is important to examine how these methodologies can exacerbate distress or contribute to symptoms among study participants. Using a sample of 202 female college students, we examined the changes in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and general psychological symptomatology among groups of trauma-exposed and non-trauma-exposed women randomly assigned to complete 30 days of daily monitoring of traumatic symptoms and substance use behaviors using personal digital assistants (PDAs). These two groups were compared with a trauma-exposed sample of women who did not complete daily monitoring assessments and only completed pre- and post-monitoring online assessments. While trauma-exposed participants in the monitoring group reported more distress from the daily assessments than those in the monitoring group with no history of trauma, this distress level was relatively low. Online surveys delivered pre- and post-monitoring showed a similar pattern. Trauma-exposed participants in monitoring and no-monitoring groups reported a decrease in general psychological symptoms over the 30 days; however, monitoring participants reported increased levels of PTSD severity over time. Closer examination revealed the observed changes were relatively moderate. Participants expressed benefits and risks regarding study participation supporting the findings that repeated assessments of traumatic symptoms using personal handheld devices may lead to small increases in distress and PTSD symptoms, but that these approaches may be generally well tolerated.

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