Please activate JavaScript!
Please install Adobe Flash Player, click here for download

uni'wissen 01(3)-2011_ENG

The derailed train, the smashed-up wagons strewn across the tracks, the corpses laid out in rows: Catastrophes like the high-speed train disaster near Eschede, Germany, in the summer of 1998, which killed over 100 passen- gers and railroad employees, often leave survi- vors with posttraumatic stress disorders and other aftereffects. Memories of the event and its aftermath can rapidly transform the initial shock into a long-term emotional burden. Prof. Dr. Dr. Jürgen Bengel from the Institute of Psychology and his colleague Katharina Becker are studying ways to prevent psychological disorders caused by such events from taking root. They want to optimize the early diagnosis of symptoms and develop methods for preventing posttraumatic stress and providing suitable and immediate support for victims. Whether train wrecks, fires, or massacres the psychologists want to offer their help to survivors of all incidents in which there are a lot of casual- ties and injuries. They are analyzing data from a wide range of sources to determine how survi- vors cope with states of anxiety. “Previous stud- ies have focused primarily on psychological dis- orders in victims and rescue teams after traumatic events,” explains Bengel. “They usual- ly start very late, whereas we are focusing on early intervention. We want to study the victims’ experiences directly after the event.” They also want to integrate people into the study whose success in coping with the event usually remains undocumented. “Following major incidents there is always a large number of victims with long- term psychological aftereffects who do not seek help,” reports Becker. “Potential victims do not always visit a psychologist, whether out of em- barrassment or a lack of knowledge. There thus aren’t any reliable studies on who suffers from posttraumatic stress disorders or other condi- tions, why, and to what extent.” Analyzing Protective and Risk Factors However, the researchers warn against over- estimating the amount of cases. Although a large amount of victims show symptoms of depression and stress shortly after a traumatic event, many of them recover again without experiencing any long-term emotional problems. It is thus a great challenge for psychologists treating victims of traumatic incidents to make a clear distinction: They must differentiate patients with a temporary stress from those with an increased risk of devel- oping a long-term psychological disorder. “It is always difficult to make the right prognosis after large-scale accidents,” says Becker. “For one thing, it is easy to misinterpret some symptoms, and for the other, it takes a great deal of organi- zational and personal effort to detect everyone who is potentially at risk.” In order to determine how people cope with traumatic events, Becker is studying the psycho- social condition of people afflicted with posttrau- matic stress for her dissertation. She distributes questionnaires to victims of severe car crashes “Following major incidents there is always a large number of victims with long-term psychological aftereffects” t the period during the traumatic event and r the event. strongly disagree dis- agree neither agree nor dis- agree agree strongly agree or horror during 0 1 2 3 4 vent. 0 1 2 3 4 ed during the event. 0 1 2 3 4 he event. 0 1 2 embling, and 13uni'wissen 03