Posttraumatic Stress Symptom Trajectories Among Children After Disaster Exposure: A Review

Betty S. Lai, Rayleen Lewis, Michelle S. Livings, Annette M. La Greca, Ann Margaret Esnard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Natural disasters, such as hurricanes and floods, are increasing in frequency and scope. Youth exposed to disasters are at risk for developing posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS). However, not all youth who report initially elevated PTSS report persistent PTSS that last beyond the first three to six months postdisaster. Thus, it is crucial to understand how and why youth differ in their patterns of PTSS. This study reviewed the literature on children's postdisaster PTSS, evaluating the typical number and types of patterns for children's PTSS trajectories, as well as risk and protective factors predicting trajectory membership. This review identified eight empirical studies on youth PTSS trajectories following natural disasters; these studies included 8,306 children aged 3 to 18 years. All studies identified resilience, recovery, and chronic trajectories. Evidence for a delayed trajectory was mixed. Proportions of children falling into each trajectory varied widely across studies, but overall, resilience was the most prevalent trajectory. These findings were consistent across study factors (i.e., analytic strategy, assessment timing, and study selection criteria). Female gender, disaster exposure, negative coping, and lack of social support were significant risk factors for chronic trajectories across several studies. Future research should combine individual level participant data across studies of children's responses to disasters to better understand PTSS trajectories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)571-582
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Traumatic Stress
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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