PTSD and trauma in Austria's elderly: influence of wartime experiences, postwar zone of occupation, and life time traumatization on today's mental health status--an interdisciplinary approach

M. Glück, Tobias; S. Tran, Ulrich; Lueger-Schuster, Brigitte
January 2012
European Journal of Psychotraumatology;2012, Vol. 3, Special section p1
Academic Journal
Background: While in recent years epidemiological studies on World War (WW) II-related traumatization and prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in elderly persons have been conducted for various European countries, for Austria, these numbers are unknown. Objective: The focus of this epidemiologic study was to picture the current mental health status and prevalence of PTSD and lifetime traumatic events in Austria's elderly with respect to WWII and subsequent occupation. Method: In an interdisciplinary approach of psychologists and historians, 316 elderly Austrians (born before 1946) were interviewed for symptoms of PTSD and lifetime traumatization (Traumatic Life Events Questionnaire, PTSD Checklist-Civilian Version), current mental health (Brief Symptom Inventory), wartime-related trauma, and traumatic experiences with occupational forces. These factors were also compared regarding the zone of occupation (Allied vs. Soviet). Data were collected between March and September 2010. Results: 97.5% of the sample reported at least one lifetime trauma. War-related traumata were reported by 92.7% and non-war-related traumata by 82.3%; 40.2% experienced traumatic events with occupational forces. PTSD was present in 1.9% of the sample and up to 13.9% taking subthreshold PTSD into account. Both, the presence of symptoms indicative of PTSD and subthreshold PTSD implied weaker current mental health (regarding General Distress: odds ratios up to 25.51; 95% CI=9.82 to 66.27). Independent of PTSD diagnosis persons from the Soviet occupied zone showed higher levels of Interpersonal Sensitivity, Global Distress, and Phobic Anxiety. Prevalence of PTSD was independent of gender. Conclusions: Our results corroborate findings from other European countries that PTSD is a common disorder in the elderly due to WWII experience and that PTSD and trauma affect mental health even across long periods of time. Postwar distressing conditions also pose a further risk factor for symptomatology and distress in later years.


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