In July 2011, Norway suffered two terror attacks in which 77 people
died and many more were injured. In the first attack, a car bomb in
the capital killed eight people and in the second, a shooter killed
69 teens and young adults at a youth camp.
Rescue workers from various professional groups and many civilians
who happened to be at the scenes assisted the victims.
Later, unaffiliated volunteers were more than eight times as likely
as trained response workers to suffer symptoms of posttraumatic
stress disorder (PTSD), such as anxiety and flashbacks, the study
team reports in the journal Occupational Medicine.
Lead author Laila Skogstad of Oslo University Hospital said the
professional rescue workers coped well with the stress in the
aftermath of the terror attacks.
“A substantial proportion of the non-professional volunteers,
however, had significant psychological problems 10 months after the
attacks,” she told Reuters Health by email.
Skogstad and colleagues gave questionnaires to 1,790 study
participants between March and June of 2012, around 10 months after
The professional workers included doctors, nurses, psychologists,
religious leaders, police officers, firefighters and trained
volunteers from local organizations.
The unaffiliated volunteers were people who happened to be at the
site of the attack or working at the hotel hosting the victims’
The researchers asked people about their previous rescue training,
their experience during the event, and the support they received
afterward. Participants also reported any symptoms of PTSD they
experienced following the attacks.
Out of all the study participants, only 56 were untrained
Overall, the rescue workers felt the rescue operation was a success,
although firefighters and civilian volunteers reported feeling a
greater threat than the other groups
Among professional workers, 2 percent had experienced some PTSD
symptoms but not enough to meet all the criteria for the disorder.
Less than half of 1 percent of the workers actually suffered from
PTSD, the researchers estimated.
Among the untrained volunteers, 24 percent reported PTSD symptoms
and 15 percent were estimated to have the disorder.
Females and workers who saw injured or dead people were more likely
to report PTSD symptoms.
[to top of second column]
Workers who felt more threatened, felt that the work was obstructed
in some way or had less training were all more likely to have PTSD
Common early symptoms of posttraumatic stress are insomnia, anxiety,
general unease, distractibility and loss of appetite, said Dr. Craig
Katz, a professor of psychiatry and medical education at the Icahn
School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
Skogstad noted that people with PTSD may also experience recurring
memories of the event or nightmares and may become easily startled.
During an attack, it is best to rely on professionals whenever
possible, said Katz, who was not involved in the study. Volunteers
"should hand off their efforts to the organized responders or join
forces with the organized responders as soon as they can,” he told
Reuters Health by email.
In the long term, mental health should be considered as a major part
of disaster planning, Katz added.
Skogstad recommended that volunteers not linked to any organization
should be monitored by professionals. “They are not trained for the
operations and are at great risk for significant posttraumatic
stress reactions even though their contributions may have been
heroic,” she said.
“The community, family and friends should not be afraid to ask, talk
about and be supportive to both professionals and non-professionals
after catastrophic events,” Skogstad said.
SOURCE: bit.ly/29AuB2F Occupational Medicine, online June 20, 2016.
[© 2016 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2016 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.