Peritraumatic emotional distress is a psychological condition that puts an individual at increased risk for depression and posttraumatic stress (PTSD). Specifically, peritraumatic emotional distress has been linked to increased negative self-perceptions and occurs when someone experiences a traumatic event and after. First responders and emergency personnel are especially vulnerable to peritraumatic emotional distress, and the ensuing PTSD and depression, because of the sheer volume of traumatic events that they witness. World assumptions also contribute to the development, or prevention of, peritraumatic distress. People who assume that the world is good and life has meaning are less likely to fall victim to distress from trauma. In addition, those who have a high sense of self-worth are also more resilient and tend to rely on adaptive coping mechanisms after experiencing trauma. It is well documented that both peritraumatic distress and world assumptions can lead to PTSD and depression. However, there is little research examining how these two unique factors relate to each other in the development of psychological problems.
In an effort to fill this void, Michelle M. Lilly of the Department of Psychology at Northern Illinois University conducted a study of 171 dispatchers for 911. The goal of the study was to determine if a positive world assumption and self-worth would mediate symptoms of depression and PTSD. Lilly and her colleagues found that the dispatchers who had a less benevolent view of the world experienced higher levels of distress, which exacerbated symptoms of PTSD and depression. Lilly also discovered that the dispatchers who had high levels of self-worth were more insulated from the negative effects of the distress than those who had low levels of self-worth. The results of this study provide a unique insight into possible future interventions. Lilly said, “Specifically, strong emotional reactions at the time of an upsetting duty-related event should be targeted for prevention of psychopathology, and further, an emphasis should also be placed on the extent to which individuals retain more positive cognitions about the benevolence of the world and self-worth.”
Lilly, M. M., & Pierce, H. (2012, January 9). PTSD and Depressive Symptoms in 911 Telecommunicators: The Role of Peritraumatic Distress and World Assumptions in Predicting Risk. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026850
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