Existential Anxiety Among Adolescents Exposed to Disaster: Linkages Among Level of Exposure, PTSD, and Depression Symptoms


Carl F Weems, Justin D Russell, Erin L Neill, Steven L Berman, Brandon G Scott


Journal of Traumatic Stress


Exposure to natural disasters can be highly traumatic and have a detrimental effect on youth mental health by threatening the satisfaction of basic human needs and goals. Recent research in adults suggests that exposure to disasters may exacerbate existential anxiety about the meaning of life. The current study expands this investigation to adolescents, who may be particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of disaster. Data came from 325 adolescents (mean age = 15.05 years, SD = 1.05) residing in the Greater New Orleans area who were exposed to Hurricanes Katrina and/or Gustav. Existential anxiety concerns were highly prevalent in the sample and were associated with elevated levels of posttraumatic stress disorder (R-2 = .09) and depression symptoms (R-2 = .13). Consistent with theoretical predictions, disaster exposure levels moderated the association between facets of existential anxiety and mental health symptoms. Findings highlight the salience of existential concerns in disaster exposed youth, and provide evidence that exposure to traumatic stress may strengthen their association with mental health problems.



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