Perceived Life Threat Triggers Long-Term Psychological Distress

We know that post-traumatic stress and other long-term psychological distress can arise when people live through a profound and direct trauma such as an attack or injury. But new research shows that just perceiving a life threat, even if distanced from immediate danger, has long-term consequences, too. Of 1,500 Swedish residents who were within the disaster area of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, one fifth of those experiencing mental health issues 14 months later were not directly impacted during the tsunami. The study’s authors recommend better preparing first responders to identify people who’ve felt their lives were threatened, and better follow-up and therapy referral to those people in the months after the event.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • anita

    anita

    September 16th, 2010 at 4:28 PM

    I live just a few miles from a small town that was devastated by a large tornado three years ago. It looked like a war zone the next day. Cars and farm animals were high up in trees and there was rubble everywhere. The fear lingers even though we were on the outer edges of it and took minimal damage. No one was even killed, a miracle indeed. I can’t listen to high winds now without feeling that fear rise up into my throat, my body going rigid. The fear is even worse than it was that night because I saw close up what devastation had been caused and how incredibly lucky we were to have missed it. Now I’m terrified that we won’t be that lucky next time. When the storms come through I’m up all night unable to sleep, pacing the floor and tuned to the radio for tornado warnings. It’s crazy.

  • larry

    larry

    September 16th, 2010 at 8:10 PM

    I meet several people that survived hurricane Katrina. Being displace from your home and move to a completely new setting was very stressful for them and probably affect them for many years.

  • alan d

    alan d

    September 16th, 2010 at 9:03 PM

    its suprising to read that even just the perception of threat can cause problems…but i’m pretty sure the problem is different for different people because the perception also changes from person to person.

  • Barnie f

    Barnie f

    September 17th, 2010 at 7:18 AM

    The fear for life that we carry in our minds is huge…Its much more than we could imagine…Come to think of it, fearing for our life makes some of us even commit murders…In defense…

  • Shaun P

    Shaun P

    September 17th, 2010 at 12:27 PM

    The perception formed in my mind would be influenced by a whole lot of factors like what information I would have regarding the threat and also depends on my mood and any other important thing that may be happening in my life at that point of time.

  • kanya

    kanya

    September 18th, 2010 at 9:54 AM

    Even if you are not directly affected sometimes it can be difficult to separate from the sad stories that you read about and see on the news every day.

  • Inez

    Inez

    September 19th, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    Ok so we can be affected by it even having not experienced it first hand. Think of what the real survivors of tragedy must go through on a daily basis. Why is there not a mandate to improve the care given to them and a universal voice and call to reason that this is something that is important and needs to be addressd? because a lot of people are unwilling to get into that business if it does not affect them directly. Only when things hit a little closer to our own homes do most of us rise to take up the cause and volunteer to make a difference or donate. Even though there are some who feel the pain remotely, there are many more who will never be able to emapthize until the same kind of situation hits them right at their own front door steps.

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